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October 23, 2012

New school won't face city vote

Project will just goto bonding, Kirk says

The proposal to build a new West Parish School or renovate the existing one, at costs now estimated at around $26 million, will not have to face a referendum of city voters.

Mayor Carolyn Kirk made that official Monday while discussing other aspects of the new school proposal, saying that investing in the city school buildings isn’t optional and shouldn’t be decided by referendum vote.

The city, she said, has an obligation to provide appropriate learning places for its students.

“(It’s) just like I would never put a referendum question out there that asked, which would you rather — keep the water rate low or boil your water for 20 days,” Kirk said, “I would never recommend putting the same type of question out there when it comes to school buildings.”

Improving water infrastructure, like the roughly $25 million in repairs after the 2009 boil water order, wasn’t optional, Kirk said, and neither is providing for city school students.

Even without a referendum on a school project, Kirk said there will be venues for community input. School Building committee meetings, she said, are public, and when the $500,000 feasibility study ends, there will be time for community dialogue.

At the very least, the City Council has to hold a public hearing before bonding for the project. Hearings are always held when the Council votes on bonding, and this proposal would go to the council for bond approval.

Initial estimates laid that cost out at between $30 million and $40 million. According to an update published on the school district website, staffers with the Massachusetts School Building Authority told the district that the estimated cost of the project would end up between $25 million and $30 million.

Of that cost, 48 percent would be reimbursed by the MSBA, which would also reimburse the same share of the $500,000 feasibility study, which the City Council unanimously approved borrowing for in May.

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