Landslide! Debt Exclusion For New 7-12 School Passes By More Than 3 To 1 Margin

Photo: Ellen Schreiber (right), co-chair of “Yes on 4” celebrating Tuesday night’s election result.

In a result that few could have predicted, Belmont voters overwhelmingly approved a debt exclusion to construct a new 7th through 12th grades school building by more than three to one margin on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.

The final vote total on Question 4 was 9,467 yes and 2,952 no with the “yes” vote receiving 76.2 percent support from the 12,833 voters – a whopping 72.4 percent turnout of registered voters – who crowded Belmont’s eight precincts throughout the mostly rain swept day. 

The night was a spectacular victory for two groups, the Belmont High School Building Committee which created a transparent and public-friendly process as the project moved from initial support by the state to a nearly finished design, and the “Yes On 4” advocacy group which promoted the new high school as, despite its costly label, fiscally responsible.

“When I first started seeing the numbers come in, I just couldn’t believe them. It says something when that many people in the town agree that we needed to do this,” said Ellen Schreiber, the “Yes on 4” co-chair with Sara Masucci at a large celebration with Question 4 supporters on Tuesday night. “It’s an amazing day for the town, for our residents, and for our children.”

The question now heads to next week’s Special Town Meeting on Nov. 13 where it will be presented before Belmont’s legislative body for approval, which is a near certainty. While the ballot question does not indicate a cost of the exclusion, the Building Committee placed a $213 million price tag for the town’s share of the $295 million middle/high school. The Massachusetts School Building Committee, which has worked in partnership with the town since it voted to accept Belmont’s application to build a new school in January 2016, will pony up the remaining funds. 

With approval at the Special Town Meeting, the construction of the 451,575 square-foot campus housing 2,215 students will get underway with the completion of the building design in April 2019 with actual shovels in the ground after the school year ends in June 2019 with the 9-12 grade portion of the school completed by July 2021. The middle school section will then be built on the site of the former high school. The school will be completed by September 2023.

Just how unexpectedly large the “yes” majority turned out was caught in the reaction to the vote total from Pat Brusch, a member of the Belmont High School Building Committee, who accompanied Belmont School Committee Chair Susan Burgess-Cox to a backroom in Town Hall where Town Clerk Ellen Cushman and volunteers were tabulating the 3,400 early voting ballots minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m.

Ten minutes after the polls closed, the first two early voting results, for Precincts 1 and 2, showed the yes’ had scored widespread support, a cumulative total of 777 to 250 in favor.

“It’s still early,” said Brusch, a noted pessimist who had spent past elections anxiously waiting the votes from residents with a well-known skepticism to approving tax increases.

When the result from the precincts themselves began filtering in on Burgess Cox’ cell-phone showing Belmont voters in near complete support for the new school project, Brusch – who was also vice-chair of the Wellington Building Committee and served on the building committees for the Chenery and Burbank/Winn Brook school construction projects – stood to stare in stunned silence for several seconds.

“I’m truly shocked,” Brusch final said as it became clear that before even a quarter of the votes had been tallied the “yes” majority would take the day.

For Burgess-Cox, the result “is amazing. The number of people who voted and the number who voted for [the debt exclusion] is an affirmation for Belmont’s schools.” 

At the celebration at a supporter’s house midway between the Chenery and Wellington schools, Schreiber said the victory for the school was accomplished fully by the dozens of volunteers who did both the large and small activities; from knocking on doors, creating innovative videos, to those who spent Tuesday in the rain for hours holding signs at intersections and the precincts.

“We wouldn’t have won without them,” she said.

The pitch to the public was straight forward; a new school would resolve issues that were threatening the education of the district’s children, said Schreiber

“Everyone saw that we needed to do this. The problems in the school system whether it’s over enrollement or inadequate buildings is real and they need to be solved. And this is a really great solution, it’s well planned and vetted by the building committee and we had an unpresidented amount of community meeting to give their input,” said Schreiber, who praised the group for “kicking the tires” on the project to demonstrate to residents that the project has been thoroughly evalutated with a great deal of transparency. 

“Through the course of this campaign, all we’ve been doing is communicating what the building committee has done. And with 76 percent of the vote, the town agreed.” she said.