School Committee chair Jennifer Glass urged residents at Town Meeting on March 25 to vote yes on Article 33, which would allow the town to spend $750,000 on a feasibility study. That money was previously allocated in 2014 with the stipulation that the study would be for a project involving the Massachusetts State Building Authority (MSBA); a “yes” vote would remove that condition. The MSBA has turned down several grant applications from Lincoln due to competition from other schools that are in much worse shape, either structurally or due to severe overcrowding, she explained.
If Article 33 is not approved, residents will be asked to vote on Article 34, which authorizes the town to apply once again for MSBA funding. However, the School Committee and other boards have recommended that voters approve #33 and pass over #34. Theoretically the town could do its own feasibility study while also reapplying to the MSBA, but this runs the risk of wasting the town’s time, effort and money, since the MSBA (even if it granted funding) would require yet another new feasibility study as well as an MSBA-approved architect and owner’s project manager.
“Obviously it’s hard to think about turning away the possibility of millions of dollars,” Glass acknowledged. But the unlikelihood of actually getting that money unless things get much worse—along with other factors like the greater flexibility of a town-only project (especially in conjunction with planning for a community center, which was not permitted in an MSBA-funded school project)—makes this the best way to go, she said.
The new Hanscom Middle School’s layout, with many multipurpose spaces of various sizes, shows how a building’s design can have educational benefits, officials said. “We are seeing amazing things happening in terms of the way faculty are collaborating on an integrated curriculum and students are collaborating with each other,” said Superintendent Becky McFall.
Even without factoring educational enhancements into a new or renovated building, a project costing at least $30 million is urgently needed just to upgrade worn roofs, boilers and plumbing, HVAC systems and energy-inefficient single-pane windows, Glass said. The school also lacks sprinklers, has cramped kitchens and uncontrolled entrances, and is using converted closets for special services, she added.
If everything goes without a hitch, the earliest that construction could begin is late summer or fall 2019, with completion taking at least two years depending on the scope of the project, Glass said.
After this month’s Town Meeting, there will be two more town-wide votes: one to choose a project concept and budget range (probably at Town Meeting a year from now), and another vote to bond the project in fall 2018 after final plans are developed.
“No solution gets chosen without a town vote—this is full-on town participation,” Glass said.
The second vote to choose a design concept was not undertaken in 2012. “We know that that is a really important step for the town to make,” she said, noting that the school campus “has a certain feel and is the heart of the community in many ways.”
Some of the data from the previous school studies can be used again, including data on the current facilities conditions, the educational program needs, possible building footprints and the optimal orientation of the building, the number of classrooms needed, etc. Still to be determined is the exact building layout and room configurations, site planning on roads, parking and pathways (especially as they may also affect a possible community center on the Hartwell side of the campus), and choosing major systems and construction materials, Glass said.
Finance Committee chair Peyton Marshall outlined Lincoln’s property tax situation now (generally favorable compared to eight peer towns) and how it would change after a major bond issue. He showed how much tax bills would go up depending on how much money the town borrowed and the interest rate (either 4% or 5%). The numbers assume that the town will use its debt stabilization fund to smooth the impact.
Bottom line: there would be a median annual tax increase of $275 to $300 for every $10 million that the town borrowed. The median tax bill in fiscal 2018 is $13,613.