Friday, September 28, 2007
Should Carlisle's school building proceed without state funds?
The Carlisle School Building Committee (SBC) defended their call for a Special Town Meeting when they met with the Board of Selectmen (BOS) on September 25. The purpose of their request to vote on $3 million in design funds is for a Carlisle School project expected to cost $28.5 million. Although the BOS was generally supportive of the need, uncertainty about state funding and town opinion raised a question as to whether this is the time to move ahead.
Selectman Doug Stevenson summarized the thoughts of many. "I'm concerned with moving forward with a Special Town Meeting without understanding the possibility of state funding" when the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has promised to announce a plan in three to six months. If Carlisle is not on the list, "we could be spending $3 million for a project that may never happen." He added, "I support a project at the school, but fear we put ourselves in jeopardy if we move forward without more knowledge about state funding."
Financial risk in waiting
Christy Barbee explained that "now is the time," or another year will be lost, and "the condition of the roof won't carry beyond three years." A six month wait translates into a year delay because "you can't move in in the middle of the year. It's too disruptive." She expressed surprise that the proposal was controversial. "This is what we've been saying for some time." The SBC was told to put off their project at the last Spring Town Meeting and now continued delay "will expose us to real financial risk. A new roof is $1.4 million, and we keep patching and patching."
As for the MSBA, "I have no confidence they will be ready when they say they will be." Noting years of experience with unreturned phone calls, she added, "They have such an enormous backlog, it's going to be awhile. If we continue to wait and wait and wait for MSBA to go through their birthing pains, we're going to be in real trouble."
Can we afford it?
Stevenson countered, "This is the scenario that concerns me the most, where we're backed into where we're fully funding a $30 million project." He pointed to the probability of another project at the high school and asked, "Could we do a smaller project?"
Barbee responded that the group looked at a $12 million Carlisle School project and "didn't think you'd be getting your moneys worth." While it would address maintenance and repair, it would not add to space or "help us prepare for the future in any way, shape or form."
Selectman Tim Hult noted that if current trends continue, taxes in Carlisle will be above $15,000 in five years. "Both projects (CPS and CCHS) without reimbursement is just not tenable financially."
Wendell Sykes of the SBC noted the tax increase is offset by federal and state taxes that are down, adding, "We've been short-changing children for a decade. It's time to stop." He said he wants to "protect the significant equity in my house" which has quadrupled in value in 25 years as a result of Carlisle's reputation for school support.
Reading the mind of MSBA
Hult worried that a defeat of the Warrant would send the wrong message to MSBA. Sykes suggested, "If it passed, our chances (for funding) are greatly increased."
Discussion continued regarding whether there would be more or less funding if the town goes ahead. Will there be retroactive grants? As it became clear no one could read the mind of MSBA, John Williams begged, "Is there not some way to penetrate this fortress?"
Responded Sykes, "They don't know. Nobody knows." Hult expressed the opinion that another delay on the part of MSBA would be "politically untenable. They can't go through another year" without letting towns know where they stand.
Hult then raised the concern that the Finance Committee may not support the proposal. The town has, at the outside, $30 million debt capacity, and only if operating
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