The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 16, 2007


Carlisle School building project on hold for now

After weighing the chances of being successful with voters, the school decided last week to withdraw their request for building design funds.

School Building Committee Chair Christy Barbee explained there was a strong feeling in the group that the Article might not pass if the school went forward with the request this spring. "At a time when the [school] has its hands full with serious budget cuts, it was clear it would be difficult to work simultaneously on advocating for the building project."

A report by the Long-Term Financial Planning Committee last month shows that rising town operating expenses and two proposed school building projects, a new building at the Carlisle School and a complete replacement of Concord-Carlisle High School, will contribute to steeply increasing property taxes.

The financial planning committee did not recommend the school withdraw its building design request; however the financial report was not ignored. "We take the feedback of town boards seriously," said Barbee of the building committee's decision to withdraw the request for $3 million to design a new school building.

It was not the goal of the advisory committee to give the school a figure the town could afford for the project, explained Selectman Tim Hult, Chair of the financial planning committee, when interviewed by the Mosquito. The goal was to project a financial picture of the impact of increasing town operating expenses and school and town projects on tax bills.

Selectmen know the school needs to replace some of its buildings, Hult said, and the town also needs to replace vehicles for the Department of Public Works and the Fire Department. The challenge for the Selectmen and town boards is to try to make the projects more affordable and minimize their impact on property taxes.

The School Building Committee asked the Selectmen in January for a Warrant Article for design funds for a new elementary building. The school plans to demolish the free-standing Spalding Building, built in the mid-1950s and rated in the poorest condition by the state, and replace it with a new elementary school building connecting to the existing buildings. The new building, 45,000 to 65,000 square feet depending on the building's final design, would be significantly larger than Spalding's 16,000 square feet, and would address the school's long-term classroom needs. After a possible 40% reimbursement from the state, Carlisle's costs for the $30 million project are projected to be around $18 million.

The school maintains that rising construction costs will largely offset the state's potential reimbursement. The building committee has pointed out that with a 10% expected increase in construction costs each year, the longer the school waits to build, the higher the final cost.

Now the project is on hold as the school waits for the right time to request funds from voters. "I believe the committee and the administration will pursue design funds for a project at a Fall Town Meeting," said Barbee. "In the meantime, we will continue to watch the Massachusetts School Building Authority for reimbursement prospects, and we will look at ways to reduce costs for a building project." She added the school needs to be vigilant about deteriorating conditions in Spalding, including the building's aging heating system, and mold that occurs there intermittently.

It is clear that town operating budgets need to be constrained, Hult said, and the timing and size of capital projects, including the Carlisle School and Concord-Carlisle High School building projects need to be strategically managed by Selectmen.

But even after moderating town budgets and managing costs of the school projects, Hult points out, it is likely taxes will rise. "People will have to pay a bit more in taxes," he said, while acknowledging that voters themselves will play their part in determining how much their taxes rise, as they accept or reject future tax increases.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito