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Wilbraham residents OK school repair borrowing

Date: 8/20/2014

WILBRAHAM – More than 100 town residents filled the auditorium of Minnechaug Regional High School on Aug. 18 to participate in a Special Town Meeting discussion and vote on six separate articles, all of which were approved by a majority vote.

The first four articles, however, were the main concern for residents due to the topic of bonding $3.9 million for school reconstruction projects.

Article 1 entailed the borrowing of $70,000 for a feasibility study and schematic design for the Wilbraham Middle School (WMS) roof.

Article 2 stated that $60,000 would be borrowed for a Soule Road Elementary School windows and doors feasibility study.

Articles 3 and 4 represented the brunt of the projected costs, with the WMS roof project being $2.3 million and the Soule Road project costing $1.5 million.

Both projects are also contingent on a debt override vote by residents during the Nov. 4 state election ballot under Proposition 2 ½.

If town residents vote in favor of a debt override, both projects become eligible for a 53.7 percent reimbursement under the Accelerated Repair Program of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea said the Accelerated Repair Program had 120 applicants apply last year with only about 60 being invited into the program.

Wilbraham was invited into the program in June after a statement of interest was sent to the MSBA in February, he said.

If bonded for 15 years, the projects would result in an additional $38 on the average homeowner’s property tax bill during the first year. At year 15, the cost would be an average of $22, O’Shea said.

Jeff Smith, a resident of Winterberry Drive, suggested the possibility of building a sloped roof on WMS rather than a flat roof, which he said would extend the lifespan of the roof.

“Have we considered more money to pitch this roof?” Smith added. “It might buy us two of those 20-year cycles. I know on your average house right now you (can) get a 50-year shingle.”

Edward Cenedella, facility director for the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, responded by stating that the change to a sloped roof does not fall into the MSBA program and that there would most likely be structural changes to a large portion of the building that would exceed projected costs.

George Gordon, a resident of Glenn Drive, proposed an adjournment of the Special Town Meeting until Sept. 16, due to what he said was not enough people attending due to summer vacations. The motion failed by a majority vote.

“As a homeowner, my taxes have gone from $5,000 to $6,500 in six years,” said Carolyn Garete, a resident of Fernwood Drive. “And at the pace were going, your average family can’t afford to keep raising the property taxes.

“So, I’m kind of up in the air as to how I would vote for this because I know there is probably a police station coming in the future,” she added.

O’Shea responded by stating that he thinks the Soule Road windows and doors could have possibly been maintained in the late 70s and early 80s, which could have avoided at least part of the cost of the current situation.

“You want to make sure that you’re protecting the asset so that it doesn’t get beyond the point of no return,” he added.

O’Shea said the Soule Road windows are original 1970 single-paned and aluminum-framed windows and are inefficient due to poor insulation.

There have been 13 service calls to Soule Road Elementary School during the last 24 months due to break-ins, most of which are due to a lack of security from the windows, Cenedella said.

Rubber caulking is aged and crumbling on the windows and if the feasibility study finds asbestos in the caulking there must be an abatement project undertaken as well, he added. The projected costs have accounted for an abatement project.

The WMS roof is 24 years old and has been described by O’Shea as at the end of its useful life.

Both projects are anticipated to begin in the spring of 2015 and end in the summer pending voter approval on Nov. 4.

“I think that anytime you’re talking about public funding there’s always competing needs and those are challenges and those are difficult decisions,” O’Shea said.

Nick Manolakis, a member of the Capital Planning Committee, said every year there is only about $500,000 available in the operating budget to allocate for projects such as the WMS roof and Soule Road windows.    

In other business, Article 5 approved a change in the start date for Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee members from the date they are elected to July 1. Hampden residents must also vote on this issue before it can be officially approved.

Article 6 established a Municipal Light Plant Enterprise Fund, which allows the self-sustaining enterprise fund to “begin receiving and utilizing receipts from the potential sale of Broadband and other services allowed under the General Laws,” the article stated.