By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — 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.
School Committee member Kathy Clancy said Monday that the reimbursement has the potential to end up around 50 percent or higher. The MSBA, she said, adds to the reimbursement if districts go with a pre-designed “model school,” or build an environmentally conscious building among other things. The model school adds another 5 percentage points onto the reimbursement.
“As best as they fit our needs, (these options) will be pursued,” Clancy said.
Last week, the city took another step toward completing that study. On Thursday, the city’s School Building Committee hired Charlestown architectural and project management firm Knight, Bagge & Anderson inc to manage the feasibility study and the school building project, said Chief Administrative officer James Duggan, who sits on the committee.
KBA managed the district’s $6 million school roof replacement project last year. The firm handles and has done several school building projects, including the Hingham Middle School and the Methuen High School.
Duggan said that $115,000 of the $500,000 borrowed for the feasibility study will fund KBA’s work. The city, he added, heads to the MSBA on Nov. 5 for itsr vote on whether to approve the city’s choice of project manager.
The $500,000 budget includes $50,000 for site testing, $20,000 for general expenses, and $315,000 for a designer. After the MSBA approves KBA as a project manager, Duggan said the firm will work with the city to find a designer.
“When they do that, it’s going to be more of a co-decision with MSBA,” he said.
After they find a designer, Duggan expects the feasibility study to take around five months. The study includes a look at alternatives to building a new school as well, according to MSBA regulations. The evaluation will look at possible tuition agreements, renting or buying current buildings, base repair of West Parish, and renovating West Parish.
The city will pick one of the options, but that choice also still requires MSBA’s approval.
“(We’ll decide) what has the least amount of disruption of to continuing the daily curriculum and what’s most financially feasible, those weigh equally in the decision,” Duggan said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.