By Ann Needle
Minuteman High School soon faces its final chance to land major state money to build a new school. While it appears that Stow’s regional vocational high school has a good chance of winning those funds, it has been a long road with lots of twists, meaning nothing is guaranteed.
Voters in Stow and the 15 other towns that have made up Minuteman’s district will go to the polls Sept. 20 to decide whether to accept their portions of the debt needed to build a new school, at a cost of almost $145 million. (Six of these towns won’t be charged for the building, as they are being allowed to leave the district, at their request, in exchange for having voted in favor of the spending at their Town Meetings.) While Stow voted overwhelmingly at its May TM to accept its share of the cost, all of Minuteman’s towns had to vote in favor as well— and Belmont did not.
As spelled out in the school’s Regional Agreement, the Minuteman School Committee then voted to hold a district-wide election on the question, where a majority vote will decide whether to accept the debt. Passing the vote means the MA School Building Authority will fund at least 40% of the qualifying cost, so the towns would not be paying the full $145 million.
The election will be the absolute last step in securing these funds, after years of attempts in getting 16 towns to agree to a major renovation or replacement of the Lexington school building, which has not been renovated since it opened in the 1970s. The MSBA had declared it would pull the promised reimbursement if the district did not vote in the spending by June 30, but Minuteman managed to get that deadline extended until November.
“We’re trying to preserve the MSBA funding. If we don’t, we’ll end up out of that pipeline,” stressed Alice DeLuca, Stow’s Minuteman School Committee Rep. As it is, the MSBA reduced its reimbursement rates for newer applicants, so voting down the funding on Sept. 20 means Minuteman would need to re-apply for substantially less money, she noted.
Will It Pass
“Over the years, there’s been tremendous support from Stow for Minuteman,” DeLuca said. She explained that the debt exclusion votes among Minuteman’s TMs (except for the rejection by Belmont) were at least near-unanimous in favor of the project. Also, a study conducted last year of 400 registered voters in the Minuteman district by an independent firm reported almost 69% said they would vote to build a new school.
Still, the project’s opponents question whether the new building, to be designed for 628 students, will be too big if Minuteman cannot attract enough new member towns and in-district students to replace the 6 towns that recently elected to leave. Minuteman reports a current enrollment of 754, but the loss of member towns is expected to reduce that number. As for Belmont, Minuteman Supt. Dr. Edward Bouquillon earlier acknowledged the town’s concerns over, among others, several other capital projects it must fund.
DeLuca pointed out that the MSBA will only offer funding for schools designed to hold at least 600 students. And, as a vocational school, she added that Minuteman should be large enough to offer an interesting array of programs. As for Belmont, DeLuca commented that the time was right to leave the district, but it never made a move to do so. “I’m focused more on the towns that support Minuteman, and just finish this. One town can’t kill the project.”
On Sept. 20, voting will be at Center School from 12 to 8pm. DeLuca commented that the law allows only an 8-hour window for this particular type of voting. Minuteman is funding all polling costs.