The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 26, 2010


Finally – it’s time for a vote on the Carlisle School project

After spending most of the last decade considering various options for a Carlisle School renovation, voters will soon face the decision of whether to approve construction for major improvements to the school campus. In order for the project to proceed, voters must approve funding at both a Special Town Meeting scheduled for Monday, April 5 at 7 p.m. in the Corey Auditorium and at a Special Town Election on Tuesday, April 13 at Town Hall.

School and town officials have been studying ways to upgrade the school facilities since at least 2001, when, after several years of enrollment growth, HKT Architects were hired to look at building a new school for preK-grade 2 on the Banta-Davis Land. The plan was set aside when prevailing opinion favored keeping a single campus.

The student population reached 846 students in 2002 and the following year, a study by SMMA architects recommended expanding the current campus to accommodate a predicted future enrollment of up to 1,200 students. Plans were shelved however, due to a poor economy.

In 2006, the enrollment stood slightly above 800 when a Facilities Master Plan by HMFH architects laid out three building alternatives. Designs were based on a lower long-range projection of 800 students. HMFH outlined costs for construction of a new preK-8 school on another site, as well as for various renovation plans. In the latter case, the first phase would include replacement of the Spalding Building along with various other repairs and renovations at a cost ranging between $13 and $28 million, depending on the size of the project.

HMFH also suggested that a second phase of renovations might be undertaken several years later to upgrade or replace other buildings. Construction of either an all-new school, or a two-phased, extensive renovation were estimated to cost roughly $60 million.

School enrollment now stands at just under 700, and while still dropping, it is expected to rebound. Based on a future enrollment of 700, the current plan would replace the 55-year-old Spalding Building (which needs significant repairs) with a new, larger building to serve grades preK-2. The new structure would link with the Corey and Wilkins Buildings and would allow students to reach the gym and cafeteria without needing to walk outside during bad weather. Included are repairs and renovations to the Corey, Wilkins and Robbins Buildings. Three classrooms in Robbins would be converted to a large multi-purpose room and another would become an engineering lab. Additional space would be subdivided for individual or small group instruction and the middle school science labs are to be upgraded.

The total cost of the current project is $20 million, but since the state has signed an agreement to provide roughly $7 million in reimbursement, the net cost to Carlisle would be $13 million.

If built, how soon would the school need another building project? Boilers and roofs eventually wear out and the older buildings will need maintenance. However, School Building Committee (SBC) Chair Lee Storrs says, “We are not proposing a phase 2 with more extensive renovations to existing buildings in five years, as originally noted in the master plan.” He states, “We anticipate that the project as proposed should address the major capital needs at the school for the next 15 to 20 years. Specifically, we are addressing the mechanical (HVAC) and roofing needs on the existing buildings, which are two of the more costly areas on the existing buildings. We are also addressing information technology infrastructure as part of the project, which should leave us in good shape for several years for information technology.”

In two weeks the town will vote on whether to fund a Carlisle School renovation. Is the time finally right? The improved facilities would benefit the students for many years to come. ∆

A prisoner’s dilemma

The Board of Selectmen recently voted to hold a non-binding “survey” at our next Town Meeting regarding Carlisle’s continued participation in the Community Preservation Act (CPA). The CPA is fascinating legislation from a philosophical point of view, in part because the CPA is a great example of a game-theory problem called a prisoner’s dilemma.

A prisoner’s dilemma is a contest that usually has the following characteristic: if only some people participate, then the participants gain, but if everyone participates, then everyone loses. One illustration of a prisoner’s dilemma is steroid usage in sports: If you use steroids and others do not, then you have a relative advantage over your opponents. But if everyone uses steroids, then the relative advantage evaporates, and everyone loses (because of steroids’ harmful effects).

And what we have in the CPA is a prisoner’s dilemma on steroids.

To participate in the CPA, a town must choose to levy a surtax of up to 3% on property tax bills (Carlisle’s surtax is 2%). Levying a CPA surtax makes a town eligible for state matching funds, which come from a pool of money that is filled through a $20 fee assessed every time a deed is registered in the Commonwealth. All registry transactions are charged the $20 fee, regardless of whether the town on the deed participates in the CPA program. A town’s surtax revenue, plus its state matching funds, must be used only for purposes allowed by the Act.

In the early days of the CPA, relatively few towns adopted the property surtax, so each participating town’s state matching funds were large (Carlisle received a 100% match for the first few years). In other words, there were few participants, and all the participants won big. But as additional towns scrambled to adopt the property surtax and grab the “free money,” more towns competed for the same fixed pool of matching funds, resulting in a reduction of matching funds per town (Carlisle received a 29% match last year). As a result, participating towns find themselves in a peculiar predicament: Each town is worse off than before adopting the CPA, because the meager state match is not worth the CPA’s restrictions on how the money can be spent.

For example, the CPA prevents Carlisle from building a mix of “affordable” and market-rate housing on the Benfield land. Without this option, Carlisle loses one possible mechanism for generating the revenue necessary to build the affordable housing in the first place. In another example, Carlisle could find itself unwilling to raise tax revenues for high-priority projects (schools), while still potentially funding lower-priority projects ($165,000 for the Cranberry Bog house and $33,634 for a Community Housing Coordinator salary)!

There are other issues as well. The CPA is terribly regressive. Rich towns participate and poor ones do not. The top three towns in terms of net benefit per capita (fiscal years 2002-2007) were Chilmark, Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head) and Nantucket – resort communities all. Some say that we deserve this transfer of wealth from poor towns because most Carlislians pay exorbitant state income taxes, but two wrongs do not make a right.

If this were not enough, there is legislation (SB90) pending on Beacon Hill called “An Act to Sustain Community Preservation.” This bill would increase land registry fees to bolster the dwindling pool of CPA matching funds. So, to sum up: We have a proposed new tax (SB90) to augment an existing tax (deed transfer fees) that you can partially get back if you levy another tax (the property surtax). Such is the dilemma of a prisoner of Taxachusetts!



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