As they head to the polls for a Special State Election to fill the seat vacated in the U.S. House of Representatives by Senator Edward J. Markey, Winchester voters on Tuesday also will cast ballots in a Special Town Election to decide the fate of the proposed debt exclusion to fund a comprehensive overhaul of Winchester High School.
The $129.9 million addition and renovation project is designed to address three critical issues for Winchester: increasing enrollment; an obsolete building infrastructure; and an educational program that is no longer supported by the physical layout of Winchester High School.
A town website describing the project is here.
If voters approve the debt exclusion for the high school, that project alone could add as much as $847 to the average annual property tax bill, already among the highest in the state.
During the past six years, the average property tax bill for a single-family home in Winchester, assessed in fiscal 2013 at $770,456, has increased 26 percent, from $7,803 in fiscal 2007 to $9,839 in fiscal 2013, state records show.
If voters approve the debt exclusion, a temporary property tax hike that lasts only as long as the debt incurred for the project, town officials would complete work on the high school by fall 2017.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority on Oct. 2 approved a grant of up to $44.5 million for the comprehensive rebuilding of Winchester High School, leaving the town responsible for the balance of $85.4 million.
John Natale, a vocal critic of the project, together with a small band of volunteers, is going door-to-door, handing out fliers to “every homeowner in Winchester,” urging them to vote against the debt exclusion. In all, the group is distributing about 7,000 fliers, Natale said.
“My principal objection to this project is that I’m against wasting money,” said Natale, 78, a retired electrical engineer who believes the high school’s shortcomings can be addressed without a major overhaul. He noted that under state School Building Authority guidelines, the current high school is 45,000 square feet larger than necessary to house even the maximum projected enrollment of 1,370 students.
“The proponents’ motto is ‘strong schools, strong communities,’ ” said Natale. “I agree with that, but we have it already. Winchester High School is an incredibly successful high school; a new building is not going to improve SAT scores.”