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School Building Committee decides it will be option 2B

Date: 10/5/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW It will be 2B, going forward.

The School Building Committee (SBC), after reviewing the cost estimates for the top three options in the Longmeadow High School renovation project, voted 14-1 to move forward with the plans known as 2B, which involves renovating the portion of the high school built in 1971 and building all new classroom and core spaces.

SBC member Mark Sirulnik, an architect who administrated the design and construction of 60 public school projects in Massachusetts since 1963 and a town resident for 40 years, voted no. He was in favor of option 2A.1, which would add new classrooms in the central part of the school and demolish the wing closest to Bliss Road.

"It serves the same purpose," Sirulnik stated.

There were some noted differences in the costs and average tax increases between 2A.1 and 2B. With 2A.1, the estimated total cost was $79,429,889, with an Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) reimbursement rate of 53.84 percent. With 2B, the total cost was projected to be $80,549,016, with an MSBA reimbursement rate of 50.84 percent.

Project 2A.1 would take approximately 42 months to complete, with the high school renovations being finished by January 2015; project 2B would take 27 months and would be ready for students by January 2013.

The average home assessment in Longmeadow is $370,000; the tax rate increase for the average home to pay for the town's share of the school project would be $332.13 for 2A.1 and $371.92 for 2B. This would be a 25-year bond, if approved by the town's voters, with the amount decreasing toward the end of the repayment period.

The other option on the table, 1B, a full renovation, would have cost more and taken longer to complete ($81,778,651; 54 months).

Final Public Input Given Before Decision

The Sept. 30 meeting of the SBC was the last chance for residents to ask questions and share concerns about the three options being considered.

"We're building a college prep high school," Kevin Shea, a resident and a professor at Smith College, said. "We should be preparing our students to compete." He added that he was nervous that if the town doesn't have a new building that old-fashioned teaching environments could impact how students learn using critical thinking and collaboration.

"Our building doesn't help us do this very well," he said of the current structure. "Option 2B is the only one that lets our students compete with others around the world."

Megan Piccus said she thought option 2B would be the least disruptive to current students at the high school.

Trish Kingston brought up the fact that the school has been on the New England Association of Schools and Colleges probation recently because of the state the facility is in, and wanted to know how much longer the district could go on "Band-Aid-ing things" to maintain accreditation.

"The high school is off warning right now, and part of the reason it came off probation is the MSBA process," high school principal Larry Berte said. "It's hard to foresee the future ... I personally don't see the building making through another 10 to 20 years."

Pat Munson stated that "sometimes we have to bite the bullet" and pay for things the town needs now, because prices could be a lot higher in 10 years, which is the estimated time it would take for Longmeadow High School to again be considered for MSBA funding if the project isn't approved in the spring.

Resident Jerry Nolet disagreed. "It's a good idea; it's the wrong time," he told the SBC. "There's an elephant in the room and that's the $200 million in infrastructure needs [in the town]. How do we address these with the school?"

Robert Barkett, chair of the Select Board and co-chair of the SBC, replied that much to the chagrin of the other SBC members, he did not list the high school as a top priority for the town, but the MSBA process has thrown Longmeadow into a finite timeline to make a decision.

"It's not a decision of the SBC," Barkett said. "It's a decision of the town [to move forward with the project]."

Looking Ahead

Christine Swanson, co-chair of the SBC, commented that the group plans on continuously updating the community on what's happening with the project and that a top goal of the SBC is to keep the public aware and educated.

Facts that the public may not know: Paul Pasterczyk, the town's finance director and a member of the SBC, noted that there will be a drop of about $300,000 in debt that will be paid off in fiscal year 2011 (FY11), with another $200,000 or so dropping off the tax rolls near FY15.

Barkett added that the town and the SBC would also be seeking out private donations and partnerships to help offset the town's share of the construction costs.

Videos and documents from meetings past are available on the SBC's Web site,