Additional Funds Appropriated for School Building Project at Special Town Meeting, 525 to 120
Over 600 residents gathered at North Reading High School Monday night for Special Town Meeting.
Over 600 residents attended Special Town Meeting at North Reading High School Monday night to vote to appropriate $15.5 million in additional funds for the school building project. The auditorium filled quickly and the overflow space in the gymnasium was utilized. Residents used a paper ballot to vote, and the motion passed by more than the required two-thirds, 525 to 120.
To start the meeting, the Secondary School Building Committee asked for 45 minutes to make a presentation. A hand vote was taken, and voters denied the request. However, Town Moderator John Murphy stated that under Roberts Rules of Order each member of the SSBC would still be allowed five minutes to speak.
School Committee member Gerry Venezia went over the history of the project. Superintendent Kathy Willis showed a photo of the campus and went over the phasing plan.
Construction started last December and will continue to September of 2014. If the additional funds are approved, the high school and shared core facilities will be constructed in that time frame. The new high school will open in September of 2014 and middle school students will be relocated to the existing high school.
From June 2014 to August of 2015 the middle school will be renovated and then opened in Sept of 2015. From June to September of 2015 the existing high school will be demolished. From August to December of 2015 the fields, parking lots and landscaping will be completed.
High school Principal Jon Bernard and Middle School Principal Catherine O'Connell discussed the importance of the shared core facilities including the auditorium, gym and library. O’Connell mentioned the size of the existing science labs, 822 square feet, and that her students often have issues completing science experiments in the current labs. While completing a review last week, she observed one of her students travel from one classroom to another to get water for an experiment, which was “disruptive” she said. The new labs, at 1440 square feet, will help solve some of the current issues.
Selectmen Chairman Sean Delaney spoke about what a “yes” vote and “no” vote would mean for the town. He also said that he met with the MSBA Monday morning, along with Senator Bruce Tarr and State Representative Brad Jones. The MSBA said that they would be reevaluating the reimbursement if the additional funds are not approved. The MSBA also said that they would not be contributing any additional funds to the project.
Jones spoke at Town Meeting and said that he was in favor of the additional funds for the project. He, like other residents, is “pissed off,” which is a “legislative term” he joked, but he was still in favor of the motion passing. He urged residents to vote “yes” for the additional funds to eliminate the chance of the MSBA reducing the reimbursement amount.
“It doesn’t change the bottom line, but it does change who’s pocket it’s coming out of,” he said.
Selectman Bob Mauceri explained that a no vote could end up costing the town more in the long run for several reasons including having to pay the MSBA back the money they have already reimbursed the town. Because the plans for the school will change with a “no” vote, the MSBA’s reimbursement amount will decrease.
Selectman Mike Prisco reiterated that if the funds are not approved, the town could end up paying more. Taxes will not go down, but they may go up, he said. The board has a responsibility to the town and “we cannot take this investment that we just made and waste it,” he said.
That is not a threat, he said, it’s the truth. The board cannot walk away from the building site and leave it the way it is, he explained.
Several residents voiced concerns and asked questions. One resident asked if it would be possible to get donations from corporations or local universities to help with the tax burden. Delaney said that the town was looking into that and any money donated would reduce the amount borrowed. She then asked if she could assist in looking for donations, and Delaney encouraged her to talk to him after the meeting.
A student made a statement and said she thinks North Reading needs a new school because one of her classes is in the closet, and “it’s kind of hard to think when you are in the closet,” she said.
The Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and School Committee unanimously recommended the article.
Residents voted with paper ballots and the motion passed 525 to 120. Residents are urged to vote at St. Theresa’s Parish on between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Friday at the Special Election to finalize the appropriation and add the $15.5 million to the project.