Photo: Belmont may have voted no, but it could be on the hook for nearly $500,000 in annual costs to construct a new regional technical school.
Belmont may have voted “no” in May, but that hasn’t stopped the Minuteman School Committee from getting a second bite at the apple to approve a $100 million bonding issue to build a new regional technical school on the Lexington/Littleton town line.
On Monday, June 27, the school’s school committee voted 12-1 with one abstention to bring a referendum to build the school to the entire 14 community district.
The vote – funded by the Minuteman School Committee – will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 20 from noon to 8 p.m.
“It’s a simple vote across all the [d]istrict towns,” said Edward Bouquillon, Minuteman’s Superintendent-Director in a statement issued on June 28.
“It’s done on the same day during the same hours. The votes are totaled. If there are more “yes” votes than “no” votes, the project is approved,” he said.
According to data from Minuteman Tech, renovations and repairs are projected to cost local taxpayers roughly $100 million and take six to ten years to complete. With the MSBA grant, the local share would be roughly the same amount, to be paid by local taxpayers and by out-of-district communities through a new capital fee assessed by the state.
The new vote comes about two months after a Special Town Meeting overwhelmingly rejected the bonding issue, the only Town Meeting to vote down the proposal that would saddled Belmont with an annual bill of $350,000 to $500,000 to pay for its portion of the nearly $100 million to build the school.
And despite Belmont having expressed its opinion on the issue and while many in town would like the town to commit its own “Brexit”-style departure from the district, “it has there really is no practical way for Belmont to leave the District before the vote is taken. It’s simply not possible,” said Jack Weis, Belmont’s representative to the Minuteman School Committee.
In the view of the Minuteman officials, they were left with only one option after Belmont’s legislative body rebuffed the proposal.
“We tried the traditional Town Meeting route and won by overwhelming margins just about everywhere,” said Bouquillon, winning approval in the other 13 Town Meetings. “But we were unable to make the case properly in one town [Belmont] and, given the rules of this process, that was enough to require going directly to citizens through a formal referendum.”
In hopes of saving a $44 million grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to build the school, said Bouquillon, the Minuteman School Committee will submit the issue directly to the voters of its member towns.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, June 28, Minuteman and officials from other communities in the Minuteman district met with Belmont officials on June 20 “to determine whether Minuteman should attempt to bring the matter back to Belmont Town Meeting or, alternatively, go to a referendum.”
Under the town meeting approval process, the project could only move forward if no member town voted to object.
Belmont officials told the committee there was no indication that Town Meeting members would change their opposition to the project which it considers far too large for the number of students coming from district communities.
“[The] sensible course would be to proceed directly to referendum,” said Bouquillon. “Fortunately, state law gives multi-town districts such as Minuteman a second option for getting capital projects approved.”
“Under the new Regional Agreement, any community can petition to leave the District at any time. The first step is to have a Special Town Meeting and to have the two-thirds of the Town Meeting members vote in favor of leaving. But, the actual departure isn’t effective for three years after that. So, there is no way to leave the District before the vote is taken.
Even if Belmont could decamp from the district, “communities are still obligated for their share of any debt incurred prior to the withdrawal date,” said Weis.