Select Board Unhappy With School Construction Plans
by Connie Sartini
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Laura Chesson and Groton Dunstable Regional School Committee member Ryan McLane of Dunstable met with the Select Board Monday night to provide clarification on the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Reimbursement Parameters, based on the original SOI (Statement of Interest) – approved by the Regional School Committee and presented to the Commonwealth of Mass.
Several members of the Select Board were clearly not pleased with what they were hearing, especially with the statement that Dunstable parents wanted all that town’s elementary students to attend Swallow Union Elementary School in their town. This would then move 125 Groton students that attend Swallow Union School back into Groton’s elementary school.
With no Dunstable students attending the elementary school in Groton, there would be no shared funding of the proposed new school replacement for Florence Roche Elementary School, which is estimated to come in the $75M range. Even with a 50 percent reimbursement from the MSBA, Groton would solely shoulder the $36-38M cost for the school.
This is happening as the Regional School Committee – or at least the Groton members – will be faced with the building of an elementary school to replace Florence Roche Elementary School in Groton. And with no Dunstable participation as part of that school, Groton will face the full cost of the school, even though they are part of a regional school district.
Select Board member John Giger expressed concern regarding the amount for the school, adding that he wanted to know what is going to give us the best education. “I need to know what is economical for this” and suggested, “The School Department withdraw the application for $760K to do a feasibility study.” The risk is that by doing this, Groton will not get back into the funding for MSBA reimbursement. Giger continued, “It may be cost effective to stop busing Groton students to Dunstable and vice versa. We might save money on transportation. We may be able to build a smaller building. We are not starting out with all the options on the table, and it doesn’t feel well thought out.”
Supt. Chesson stated, “Dunstable is not interested in building a consolidated school.”
Selectman Josh Degen asked, “What is Dunstable going to do in eight-10 years when they will have to replace the Swallow Union School? It is a crap shoot to lose 125 seats and exclude consolidation.”
Ryan McLane reiterated that Dunstable residents want to keep their elementary school for Dunstable students.
Supt. Chesson pointed out that “900 students is not desirable (number) to have in one building,” adding that the new Florence Roche school funding would be for 600 students and four additional classrooms for pre-school.
Select Board Chairman Alison Manugian pointed out that the Board was “not looking at consolidation but at operating costs and educational parity.” She stressed, “Our hands are tied by the way the SOI – (Statement of Interest) was drafted and that Groton had no hand in. The decision was made without input from Groton.”
Giger added, “The Superintendent said that the SOI was written because somebody wanted Groton’s 125 students to go back to Groton.” Manugian pointed out that the district has one school that needs attention and another one that will need it in 10 years. This SOI can tie our hands.”
Supt. Chesson replied that the SOI was done and submitted before she became Superintendent of the District. She stressed, “The portable classrooms at the Florence Roche Elementary School are well past their time. We are a breath away from having music and art teachers using carts.” She added that there are no rooms that are open at Swallow Union.”
Select Board member Becky Pine asked about the timeframe to see results from the feasibility study and what outreach was planned, and Chesson estimated it to be 12 to 15 months, “with town input all along.”
Giger commented, “Groton is going to build a school, be locked in financially and the cost will not be spread in the district. The citizens of Groton are going to have to build the $40M school.”
Chesson noted that it may require, “re-doing the regional school district.” She added that this is just the beginning of the feasibility study, a $750K project the cost of which is split between the two towns and is 48 percent reimbursed by the MSBA. “At the end we should have much better information” and indicated that many of the questions that were being asked at the meeting would be answered.
Manugian stressed, “Decisions are not being made based on the region but by the individual towns.”
Giger counseled, “To ask taxpayers for $50M, you better have a [good] story.” He added, “I am not real comfortable with what’s going on. There is not a money tree out there. We have to be together. We can’t come back to the town and endlessly ask for money.”
The Select Board will meet with the School Committee in a public hearing to discuss the Feasibility Study for the building needs of the Groton Dunstable School District Tuesday, June 11 at 6 p.m. at the District’s Middle School. The public is invited to attend.