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State panel backs repair plans for Marblehead's Village School

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Brenda J. Buote and Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / May 29, 2008

The Massachusetts School Building Authority has agreed to work with Marblehead to determine the extent of repairs required at the Village School.

News of last Wednesday's School Building Authority vote comes on the heels of Marblehead's Annual Town Meeting, where a proposed tax increase for the project received overwhelming support. By a two-thirds vote, the May 6 Town Meeting approved plans to spend $21.8 million to overhaul the aging school, which houses all the town's fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.

Built in 1953, with an addition in 1967, the school has a list of deficiencies, including heating problems, drafty windows, poor access for people with disabilities, and fire safety issues. The Village School project is one of two the town hopes to tackle: Town Meeting also approved spending $395,000 to study the proposed construction of a new elementary school to replace the Glover and Eveleth schools.

School Committee member Patricia Blackmer said she is hopeful the state will fund up to 40 percent of the total cost of the Village School repairs. The School Building Authority covers 40 percent to 80 percent of a project's eligible expenses, depending on the wealth of the town and other factors.

Marblehead voters will decide the fate of both override proposals at a special election June 17.

The Village School project was the only local proposal to get the nod from the School Building Authority's seven-member board last week. The Marblehead request had been among 83 projects selected in November as the leading candidates for funding.

According to Katherine Craven, executive director of the authority, the projects that were approved last week stood out among the many competing proposals her agency reviewed, not only because they were in the most need, but because local officials exercised fiscal constraint and approached the projects with taxpayers in mind. "In order to keep these buildings in stock, it's vital we help them," she said.

Craven praised Marblehead for choosing to make repairs to the Village School rather than replace the aging structure, noting that the community is just as wealthy as Wellesley, which has come under fire for its plans to build a $159 million school. Marblehead's decision to renovate the Village School is in line with her agency's guidelines, she said. The School Building Authority considers construction of a new school the last resort, preferring to repair older buildings to save taxpayers money.

Craven's comments echo those by state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who last week warned local communities and their school committees to keep the cost of projects reasonable or risk losing millions of dollars in reimbursements from the School Building Authority.

Cahill, who serves as chairman of the agency, is calling on communities to rein in spending on capital projects, citing the current economic climate, when many taxpayers are having trouble making ends meet, never mind fund the tax increases needed to pay for elaborate construction projects.

To help hold costs down, the School Building Authority is considering revising its design standards to give communities a prototype for what it views as reasonable.

The Marblehead project was among eight across the state that got the nod from the authority's board last week.

In Medford, officials got the go-ahead to assess the high school to determine the extent of needed repairs. The school, built in the 1970s, houses 1,331 students. According to Craven, the building is well maintained but needs several big-ticket items, including a new boiler system, roof, and windows.

Belmont became one of only three communities in the state to be given final approval for construction of a new school since the School Building Authority was created in 2004. Belmont officials are hopeful the state will fund up to 40 percent of the total cost of the new elementary school, which was estimated at $45 million last year.

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at bbuote@comcast.net.

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