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Carlisle, Concord

Towns to vote on replacing high school

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / October 16, 2011

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The fate of a long-awaited new high school for Concord and Carlisle will be decided by voters next month.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority recently approved contributing up to $28.7 million for the project to replace the regional school, paving the way for the two towns to ask residents to cover the local share. The entire project, including design and construction, is expected to cost about $93 million.

“I’m optimistic,’’ said Concord resident Jerry Wedge, cochairman of the Concord-Carlisle High School Building Committee. “What makes me optimistic is that it just makes so much sense. It’s something we’ve been working on for 14 years. It’s well thought out.’’ The state agency voted Sept. 28 to approve its reimbursement for the project, pending local approval.

Concord has scheduled a Special Town Meeting to vote on the proposal for Nov. 7, while Carlisle will hold its session on Nov. 8. If the project is approved by both communities, a special election to allow the towns to override Proposition 2 1/2’s limits on property tax increases to pay for the work would be held on Nov. 15.

The regional school district approved a financing plan for the towns that calls for a combination of short-term and long-term borrowing starting in fiscal year 2013 for a 25-year-period. The tax impact will vary for both towns over the course of the loans, said Concord’s finance director, Anthony Logalbo.

In Concord, the highest amount would be due in fiscal year 2016, when the town’s typical single-family home would see a tax increase of just under $400. This year, the median assessment for single-family properties in Concord is about $657,000.

In Carlisle, the peak tax impact would occur in fiscal year 2018, when taxes would go up by an average of just over $700, based on the town’s median home value of $722,000.

Logalbo said Carlisle’s increase is larger because of its higher tax rate and higher home values. The Massachusetts School Building Authority has agreed to contribute up to 34.58 percent of eligible costs toward the new school, which will be designed to accommodate 1,225 students in grades 9 through 12. Concord’s share would be $47.1 million and Carlisle’s, $17.4 million, based on their percentage of the school district’s population.

“This $28.7 million grant represents an investment in the future of the kids of Concord and Carlisle,’’ state Treasurer Steven Grossman, the chairman of the building authority’s board, said in announcing the reimbursement vote.

Now that the state agency has signed off on the project, supporters will turn their attention to convincing the public of its benefits.

Wedge said the building committee cannot encourage voters to cast ballots one way or another but will lay out the facts and details of the process. He said a committee has been established to advocate for the project, and the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee will also be vocal in its support.

During the past decade, the high school was put on the back burner while Concord built three new elementary schools. Building committees have looked at various options for the high school, including renovation, but the state has said it would provide funds only for new construction, Wedge said.

Carlisle resident Karla Johnson, the building committee’s cochairwoman, said most residents support the project once they understand why it’s needed and why it will cost taxpayers less to build new rather than renovate.

“Everyone is very positive,’’ she said. “No one has come up to me and said, ‘What are you thinking?’ ’’

Johnson said the key to success will be educating residents, and noted that this is the third time she’s served on a building committee for the high school, and hopes it’s the last. Her first stint was when her daughter was attending the high school; she graduated in 2003, Johnson said.

“I’m very much all about kids having a good place to go to school,’’ Johnson said.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which accredits schools, has placed Concord-Carlisle on “warning’’ for the condition of its building.

John Flaherty, the district’s deputy superintendent for finance and operations, said the rating organization is aware of the plans for a new building, but he does not know what its response would be if it is rejected.

The association, in its online handbook, said if a school on warning fails to make significant progress to solve the problem identified, it could vote to place the school on probation, putting its accreditation at risk.

Jennifer Munn, a parent and a member of the Committee 4 CCHS, said the group is working with school officials on informational forums to build support for the project. She said the next meeting is planned for 7 p.m. tomorrow at the high school. She said members are also meeting with friends and neighbors to answer questions. She said most residents want to know why the town is pushing new construction over renovation.

Officials have said that cost and educational needs played key roles in their decision to propose a new facility. Not only would renovation cost more, since the state agency would not be chipping in, they said, but the existing building has many limitations that make it difficult to meet modern educational goals.

According to the school district’s statement of interest to the state School Building Authority, the space presents a particular problem for the sciences, the arts, and special education. The building is 50 years old and is in need of a new roof, windows, lights, and operating systems.

Renovation also would mean a longer construction time, and requiring finding alternate space for students while the work was being done.

Munn said once residents hear about the building’s problems and how the state is paying $28 million toward a new facility, they understand the district’s decision.

“What we’ve found is that once people get the information, it’s not hard to garner their support,’’ Munn said. ”So the effort is to get it on their radar.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.


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