The Big Wait: How Schools, Treasurer Prepare for State’s Decision on “New” High School

Photo: Belmont High School.

The decision by the state to place the $100 million renovation and new construction project for a “new’ Belmont High School was greeted with cheers by school officials while one town official has taken out his green eyeshade and sharpened his pencil to determine how the town’s property owners will pay for the project “without going bankrupt.” 

“[This is] [g]reat news from the MSBA!” said Laurie Slap, chair of the Belmont School Committee, on the Dec. 22 announcement by the Massachusetts School Building Authority that Belmont’s statement of interest made the final review for state funding.

Belmont joins 25 other new construction, renovation and repair projects from around the state that the MSBA staff recommended forward in the process to the MSBA Board for approval.

Roughly half of the “finalists” will be selected later this month by the authority to advance to being funded by the state.

“This is great news for … Belmont as it represents a unique opportunity for our community as we have submitted an application for this project, annually, for over ten years,” said Belmont District Superintendent John Phelan.

“Although this is not a final decision, it is very good to know that our proposal is moving forward in the process,” he said.

“Like many other communities, we will now await the final decision of the MSBA Board that will be rendered on Jan. 27,” he said.

Until that decision is rendered, the School Committee “will have to wait patiently” on the sidelines, said Slap. But her group and the Superintendent’s office is “ready to start moving all forward as soon as we hear a positive decision from the Board!” she said.

If the project is approved, “the School Committee will work with … Phelan, Belmont High School Principal [Dan] Richards, the Board of Selectmen and the Belmont community to reexamine the needs at the high school and follow the MSBA process for feasibility and design studies, etc.,” said Slap.

Phelan noted that he had “notified faculty and staff as well as … parents and guardians. Additionally, I spoke with  Town Administrator David Kale, who will communicate this information to the Board of Selectman and Town Department Heads.

“The MSBA process is one that is very prescriptive and as the process evolves we will use their guidance to prepare and educate ourselves as to the ensuing phases,” Phelan noted. Those will include working closely with MSBA officials on costs and needs of the district. 

While the school committee and district are excited, the town’s chief financial manager has been going over the numbers on the cost of securing a new school. 

“As Town Treasurer and a 45 year Belmont taxpayer I have thought through the financing as not to bankrupt individual family property taxpayers,” said Floyd Carman who has been in his position for more than a decade.

“I assumed the MSBA will cover 30 percent of the cost of a new Belmont High School. That leaves $70 million for Belmont taxpayers to pay for a debt exclusion vote,” he said. 

Carman has come up with a preliminary plan that will spread out the project’s financing “pain” over a decade, recommending borrowing three times within a ten-year Capital Plan:

  • 2019: $30 million.
  • 2021: $20 million.
  • 2023: $20 million.
While many residents have been focusing on the future of Belmont High School, Carman said that people “can’t forget Minuteman Technical High School, which looks like an agreement with member towns, is close to an agreement.” And that agreement, which includes a new building for the Lexington-based vocational center, will come at a cost to Belmont.
 
Under the current agreement that Town Meeting Members will vote on in early February, the “potential debt service cost for Belmont will be $400,000 to $500,000 annually for 30 years,” said Carman.

 

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