Selectmen Line Up for Minuteman… August 5, 2015
By Ann Needle
In an off-schedule meeting last Thursday, the Stow Board of Selectmen unofficially agreed to let the current plans go forward for building a new Minuteman High School.
The Selectmen were responding to a letter dated July 27 from the MA School Building Authority to all 16 Minuteman district towns. The MSBA alerted the towns that it had received a list of concerns drawn up by Arlington, Belmont, and Sudbury about the $144.9 million project for the Lexington vocational school.
The Stow BoS said they felt compelled to look at formulating any support, or asking its own questions, given that the town of Sudbury called its own meeting for this past Monday night to apparently draw up a formal statement of concerns for the project. Sudbury had requested each Minuteman town send at least one member to the meeting, which Selectmen Chair Don Hawkes planned to attend.
Possibly prompting Sudbury’s actions, the MSBA has scheduled approval of what to bring to the schematic design phase for tomorrow, August 6. The MSBA has pledged to reimburse 40% of the project. After schematic design, the Minuteman timetable has the project coming to town meetings for votes in spring 2016, with construction starting in 2018. All 16 towns must approve the project. The MSBA deadline for this approval is June 30, 2016.
If any member town’s TM does not approve this spending, then Minuteman could call a district-wide election to decide the question. Sudbury stated that, among others, it objected to this election.
However, Stow’s representative to the Minuteman School Committee, Alice DeLuca, explained that the SC has not even voted on holding this type of election, which remains only in the discussion stage. “So, there are some flaws in Sudbury’s reasoning,” she remarked. Also, the Minuteman district would pay for any election, if it came to that, DeLuca added.
Selectman Jim Salvie commented that, looking at the list of concerns from Belmont, it seemed that town was wary that Minuteman never sought member approval for its target enrollment of 628 for a new school, about 100 students less than its current enrollment. While some supporters wanted a smaller school in the 400-500 range, DeLuca pointed out that the MSBA has stated it will not support a design for under 600 students. (She also noted that shrinking target pupil enrollment to this level would only save about $1 million). DeLuca stressed that, given the curriculum plans for the new school and MSBA’s experience, she is confident in the 628 target.
“The MSBA is voting on this next week, and Sudbury is demanding two days ago that we draw a line in the sand,” DeLuca asserted.
The BoS Response
Some of the three towns’ letters hinted at “trying to appeal directly to the MSBA, saying we don’t like the size and we don’t like the process,” Salvie commented. Selectman Tom Ryan agreed, calling the letters “nebulous” regarding exactly what they do not like.
Speaking of the Monday meeting in Sudbury, Selectman Charlie Kern said, “I cant imagine any result of that meeting other than giving the MSBA another reason to say no.” If the project eventually dies, Kern asserted Minuteman’s towns would be dealing with piecemeal repairs, “With fights at town meetings over them over the next 10 years. The project is the best bargain you’re going to get.”
On the other hand, Kern said, “I don’t know how you’re going to get this through 16 town meetings.” He also expressed concern over the number of Minuteman towns that have threatened to leave the district whenever possible.
The BoS agreed to put forth a position at its regularly-scheduled meeting last night, supporting the current MSBA process for the school. It also planned to alert other Minuteman towns that it prefers to have an opportunity to discuss or consider the process at the tentatively-planned fall TM in November, especially if a district-wide election is needed.
“I personally see the value in letting the process play out,” Don Hawkes remarked. Referring to the overcrowding at surrounding voke ed schools — and the legal obligation for the town to offer students vocational education — he added, “If these kids can’t go here, where do they go?”