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October dates set for new school Special Town Meetings and votes

Date: 8/12/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM Despite the number of elected officials present, it didn't take long to hammer out the details of the timeline for votes on the new high school project.

Members of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee, the School Building Committee, the Hampden and Wilbraham boards of selectmen and the town clerks for both towns came together last Tuesday evening to be updated on where the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) project for a new Minnechaug Regional High School stands and to discuss when each town would be voting on the project.

"We have to outline a calendar of events ... and celebrate the future of our two communities," Peter Salerno, chair of the School Committee, said in his opening statement. "This [decision] will set the course of future education for the next 50 to 70 years."

Figures released by the MSBA on July 29 estimated the total cost of the project, including demolition of the old school, to be $76,796,379, with a reimbursement rate from the state of 61.73 percent, or $47,405,405.

Not included in the estimate is the cost of a new pool facility and administrative offices, which cannot be covered by the MSBA.

"The encouraging news ... was the reimbursement rate," Superintendent Marty O'Shea stated. "It's higher than any other project we saw [the day numbers were released]."

O'Shea added that it has been a long journey for the school to get to where it is now with the MSBA, and that "hopefully, we'll be able to take advantage of this opportunity."

The school district and Hampden and Wilbraham have 120 from July 29 - until Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26 - to move through three steps necessary to get the project rolling. The first is to have the School Committee vote on approving incurring the debt for the project.

Salerno said that vote could come as early as Aug. 11, as long as the final numbers from the state are solidified. If the committee doesn't vote on that date, they will vote at their Aug. 25 meeting.

From that point, both towns would have to host Special Town Meetings to gain a majority approval vote from residents. Hampden and Wilbraham would then have to place referendums on ballots for voters to cast their yeas or nays on paper.

Salerno suggested both towns host their meetings and referendums on simultaneous days because that "seems a fair way to do it." John D. Flynn of the Hampden Board of Selectmen agreed with Salerno's suggestion.

The Special Town Meetings are currently scheduled for Oct. 5, with the paper vote scheduled for Oct. 20. Beverly Litchfield, town clerk for Wilbraham, noted that normal election hours would be in place for the referendum, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.