The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 22, 2006


Carlisle School to look at more affordable building project

The Carlisle Public School will not ask voters to approve new building design funds at the Special Fall Town Meeting but is instead studying the town's long-term financial picture before it moves forward. School Building Committee (SBC) Chair Christy Barbee says the group has been working with town officials to come up with a long-term financial plan for an affordable school building project.

The SBC received feedback from Selectmen and many others in town after last spring's school Master Plan estimate of a $57 to $65 million two-phase project. The school is now looking at what the town can realistically afford and what the school can build in a $20 to $30 million project, said Barbee.

A new subcommittee, Long-Term Financial Projects,was formed this summer to assist in planning for the school building project. Members are Barbee and Michael Fitzgerald of the School Committee, Selectman Tim Hult, Town Treasurer Larry Barton, Finance Committee members Barbara Bjornson and Sue Wolfe, Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee member Don Rober, and member at-large Fontaine Richardson.

The first phase of the Master Plan was previously estimated to cost between $26 and $28 million. The first phase specifies a new building addition, the demolition of the Spalding Building, and limited renovations to other school buildings.

The SBC plans to continue to look at ways to improve facilities the school considers deficient including space for elementary art, music, foreign languages, science labs, and special education. Though the school is working to determine what can be built to improve the school buildings within a fixed dollar amount, she pointed out, "Construction costs are not getting any cheaper."

The school will ask Lori Cowles, the architect who completed the school's Master Plan this spring, for help in determining what can be built with the town's estimated funds.

MSBA guidelines

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) recently finalized its guidelines for school building projects, part of its ongoing overhaul of approving project grants and reimbursing school districts. The state guidelines are still not entirely clear, said Barbee, as Carlisle and other school systems in the state grapple with lengthy and new procedures.

Now that the school's Master Plan is done, the SBC plans to prepare a Statement of Interest for the state. The statement, a required first step in the new MSBA application process, will be completed in the next few weeks, said Barbee.

Before MSBA reform, the state reimbursed Carlisle 60% for the Link Building project completed in 1997. The new reimbursement rate has a baseline of 33%, with the average school reimbursement rate expected to be around 40%. One change school systems welcome is the MSBA's plan to begin reimbursements immediately after a building project is done and an audit is complete. Previously, with a huge backlog of projects, the state took up to seven years to begin reimbursement payments.

"The state wants to approve a project before guaranteeing any reimbursement," said Barbee of the new guidelines. The school does not plan to ask for voter approval for the building project before first getting approval from the MSBA.

This year the Massachusetts School Building Authority visited all school systems in the state to inspect buildings and rate their condition. The ratings are intended to help the state as it starts to review new school building projects for reimbursements beginning in July 2007. The state will distribute $500 million annually in new grants based on a priority system that includes poor condition of buildings and school overcrowding, among other factors.

In a letter to the agency earlier this year, the school requested that the MSBA downgrade the Spalding Building to a four rating, the worst condition. Final ratings show the 50-year-old Spalding Building is now listed as a four. Barbee said there are a relatively small number of school buildings rated four on the state's building list.

CCHS also needs MSBA approval

How will the high school's expansion plans coordinate with Carlisle School iimprovements? Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) is rated four, putting it also as a priority for replacement. Regional School Committee member Michael Fitzgerald said the high school plans to soon complete its Statement of Interest to get the high school building project on the state's agenda. "There are a lot of schools competing for state reimbursement funds," said Fitzgerald, noting that just five new high schools at $100 million each will take up the state's annual allocation.

He said CCHS needs to put together a good proposal with complete substantiation of the high school's building condition in order to have the best chances of approval.

CCHS will also wait for MSBA approval of its building project before requesting town funding. Fitzgerald said after state approval, the high school will know the exact state reimbursement percentage and can go before Town Meeting with the exact costs for the building project.

The current timeline for CCHS is to request building design funds at the spring 2008 Town Meetings in Concord and Carlisle, followed by a request for construction funds at the spring 2009 Town Meetings. If approved by voters, the new high school could be completed three years later, in 2012.

The SBC will resume public meetings next Thursday, September 28

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito