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Duxbury building projects win Town Meeting support

By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / March 17, 2011

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Duxbury’s Annual Town Meeting has approved spending on three major building projects, including a new police station, an expanded fire station, and new high and middle schools estimated to run well over $100 million.

All three projects, however, require voters to pass Proposition 2 1/2 overrides at the March 26 town election that would allow the town’s debt for the work to be excluded from the annual tax cap.

Total construction costs for the projects are expected to increase the annual tax bill for the median-value tax property — $6,000 on a $481,100 property — by almost $900, according to the town’s fiscal advisory committee.

The $6.25 million plan to build a new police station is expected to add $85 to the median tax bill. The $3.7 million approved for an expanded fire station would add $58. Full construction costs for the school project will add an estimated $733.

While clearly the most ambitious project, the schools require just partial funding this year, since the town plans to borrow only $2.9 million for design costs. The total construction cost is estimated to be $130 million, but the state school building program has pledged to reimburse 43.5 percent to the town.

Town Meeting gave its backing Saturday, after a grass-roots group that supports the new schools, Duxbury Cares, held 18 public forums over the last two months to spread information about the project, said chairwoman Karen Wong.

“Our goal was to get information out,’’ Wong said. “The more people believed in the project, the more people joined our operation. It took on a life of its own.’’

School officials are planning to replace the town’s aging high and middle schools, which serve 1,800 students, with two new schools built on the current middle school site. The plan, backed by the state’s School Building Authority, calls for the schools to be built close enough together to share some facilities. The plan would also save energy and use less land.

State officials have urged the town to make use of state-approved school designs to save money on architectural costs and fast-track the project to take advantage of a favorable construction market. By taking part in the Model School Program, the town receives a higher rate of reimbursement.

Going into Saturday’s Town Meeting, in which all registered local voters are entitled to participate, the school project appeared to be controversial because of its cost in combination with other needed projects.

But school building supporters swelled Town Meeting attendance to 1,300 people, and the proposal to fund design costs passed overwhelmingly by a voice vote.

The new police station project was also approved by a voice vote.

“The police station is a dinosaur and needs to be replaced. It’s well recognized by the residents,’’ said Town Manager Richard MacDonald on Monday.

The plan approved by Town Meeting calls for building a 15,200-square-foot building on town property on Mayflower Street next to the transfer station.

The new building would replace an undersized and dilapidated station that has a basement that floods, leaky roofs, problems with electronics, a lack of space, and other problems.

For the fire station project, Town Meeting approved $3.7 million in construction costs for a renovation and major addition to the Tremont Street station after approving $300,000 last year for engineering and architectural plans.

If the override is approved at the polls, construction could begin soon.

“The fire station looks fine from the outside, but it needs work,’’ MacDonald said.

While both projects received strong support at Town Meeting last weekend, earlier improvement projects for both stations failed at the polls two years ago.

School project backers struck a note of caution as well, despite the strong showing.

“Town Meeting is just the first hurdle,’’ Wong said. “The ballot box has been even more challenging.’’

Local taxpayers will get something of a break next year on health insurance costs, a budget-buster in many communities, which were held to a 1 percent annual increase.

The town’s ability to manage its health care costs helped hold down the overall $55 million budget to a 1.7 percent increase over the current year, which includes a $1 million increase in spending on schools, MacDonald said.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.