Thursday, October 3, 2002

Public needs to weigh in on Cape school expansion

Published in the Current

Frustrated at being shut out of the planning process, Cape town councilors expect to have a workshop and a public hearing on the school renovation project before sending it to a town-wide referendum in May.

The plan, now estimated to cost $10 million for renovations to the high school and additions to Pond Cove School, remains under review by the school building committee and must be approved by that body and the School Board before going to the council in December.

“It’s a huge amount of money, number one,” said Town Council Chair Jack Roberts. “And number two, the council never appointed this building committee. If they had wanted to involve the council early on, they should have.”

The School Board-appointed building committee, headed by School Board Chair Marie Prager, took a preliminary version of the project to the town’s Planning Board in early September, before either the School Board or the Town Council had looked at the plans, Roberts said.

That’s ignoring the proper flow of this type of process, Roberts said. “It should be coming to the council first.”

The Planning Board did not make any formal decisions, but asked for site plans and a traffic analysis when they are available.

Roberts said the council has not had any official word on the project, though council finance Chair Mary Ann Lynch is a member of the building committee, as is Town Manager Michael McGovern.

Public support needed
Lynch said she, too, wants to hear from the town. “It’s a project of such a magnitude for our small town that it really needs to have the support of the public,” she said. It is especially true because it benefits “one segment of the town” and is paid for by the entire town.

She warned that in the current economic conditions, “the larger the number, the harder the project will be to sell.”

Roberts and Lynch have met with Prager and school finance Chair Elaine Moloney, but Roberts characterized those meetings as “laying down groundwork” for the upcoming budget process, which all parties expect to be difficult due to state budget problems.

Roberts said he first heard the dollar amounts for the school projects by reading local newspapers, and said he knows the building committee has “made a strong effort” to reduce costs from their initial $11.7 million amount.

The latest dollar amount is $9.9 million, with $7.4 million to renovate the high school and $2.5 million to add a kindergarten wing and an art room to Pond Cove School.

The next building committee workshop will focus on Pond Cove, following an Oct. 8 School Board vote on whether the addition will be two stories or one story. That decision will be made based on whether the town wants to keep open an option for all-day kindergarten.

The October School Board workshop will address programs for the high school and middle school. “We want to make sure that all programming issues are done before we start (building),” Prager said.

High School plans developing
The process of planning the building has continued, however. A Sept. 26 building committee meeting addressed work at the high school, and included the completely new idea of expanding the lighted lower field to become the school’s main field, as well as questions on costs for new parking spaces.

At that meeting, Prager said she wanted to develop four options. The first would be an unchanged $9.2 million project previously described as containing all the items on the “wish list” of school staff and administrators. The fourth option would be a “bare bones” project, including only “what we absolutely have to have,” Prager said. The second and third options would be “somewhere in between.”

Those options, she said, would be presented to the School Board Nov. 12 for a decision on which to send to the Town Council. At that time, Prager said, she and Moloney will meet with Roberts and Lynch, and then “with each councilor individually” to discuss the proposal.

Lynch, in attendance at the meeting, said the council would likely have a workshop and then a public hearing on the matter before voting to send it to referendum in May.

Some of the things the committee is looking at are a list of line items that could be added or deleted, including resurfacing the track, expanding the size of the school’s lighted lower field to accommodate varsity sports, reconfiguring the locker rooms to eliminate the need for a building addition, eliminating an addition to the cafeteria, and reupholstering the seats in the auditorium instead of replacing them.

Costs for the specific items have not yet been determined. A $500,000 sprinkler system will be included if local and state fire inspectors determine it is necessary.

The building committee will next meet at 7 p.m., Oct. 30, in the Jordan Conference Room in Town Hall and will make a report to the School Board at the board’s regular business meeting at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 12, in the Town Council Chambers.