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A model of policy making with sustainability as an objective:  A roundtable discussion concerning the May 5, 2003, Yarmouth election ballot issue, "Should Yarmouth build a new high school or rehabilitate the old, existing school?"

 

Barnstable County Human Services Department Human Condition 2003 Report

 

To download the Cape Cod Sustainability Indicators Report 2003, click here.

 

Sense & Sustainability: Charting Paths for the Future

 

 

 


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A Model of Policy Making with a View toward Sustainability


A RoundTable Discussion Concerning the May 5, 2003,
Yarmouth Election Ballot Issues:

Should Yarmouth Build a New High School or
Rehabilitate the Old Existing School?

[page 1 of 2]

The following discussion was conducted by e-mail. The participants were Bill Richmond, an architect who lives in Yarmouth and writes a monthly column for the business section of the Sunday Cape Cod Times; Allen Larson, a lawyer and business advisor as well as a member of the Yarmouth finance committee and the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School renovations committee; and Tony Pierantozzi, the superintendent of the Dennis and Yarmouth regional schools and ex officio member of all Dennis and Yarmouth schools-related committees. On May 5, 2003, Yarmouth voters said yes to renovating the existing high school.  

*     *     *

Bill Richmond   Thank you for your comments on my recent Cape Cod Times column about the Yarmouth annual town meeting.  It was a great turnout.  I guess a lot of other people felt as strongly about the issues as we did.   Let's hope it's as good next year.

Allen  Larson   You’re welcome.  What are your thoughts about the vote on May 5?  I'm not sure that the broad electorate fully appreciates the point that we lose the chance to receive a reimbursement from the state of nearly 60 percent of the renovation costs if we do not vote in favor of the override.  That's a lot of money to leave on the table.

Bill Richmond   I think people understand.  I just hope that the funding is really there if the project is approved.  It is my understanding that the state share won't start for 8 or 10 years.

      I've designed a number of schools in northern New England, and I've experienced this same kind of funding moratorium. I have a couple of questions:  First, is spending $33 million on additions and renovations a wise investment?  A representative of the school board told us a brand new facility would cost 50 percent more.  To me, that's a close call; however, the funding moratorium doesn't allow for the time to bring this decision to the voters.

 

The choice between  building a new school 
or renovating  the existing school

Allen  Larson   The question of whether to build a new school or renovate the existing school goes beyond the consideration of the actual construction costs alone. 

      For example, if we built a new building instead of renovating the old one, we would have to decide what to do with the old building.  Both the site advantages we already have at the high school as well as the high cost of looking for land anywhere else would likely lead us to build the new building on the old site anyway.  If we did, then the old building would likely be used to house a middle school or an elementary school or something else educationally oriented.  The point is that we'd still have to renovate it.  And there would not likely be any possibility of a reimbursement.   

        Alternatively, we could possibly sell the building and recoup some value. However, in this context, it's quite possible that the building would sit as an eyesore because it wouldn’t sell.  Look at the history of the Christmas Tree Shop warehouse on White's Path or the old Chamber of Commerce building down the street on Station Avenue.

         And, in any case, the site is best used for a school use. Can you imagine the outcry that would attend some other proposed alternative?  For a private company, the application costs and traffic and impact studies that the Cape Cod Commission would call for would be daunting.

        The bottom line to your question is that it's hard to truly assess the cost advantages quite as cleanly as simply adding 50 percent to the renovations estimate.

Tony Pierantozzi   Demolition of a functional public building is expensive.  On Cape Cod we don’t have anywhere to put the massive amount of demolition material so it is trucked long distances.  Very expensive!  In addition, the voter is not generally supportive of demolition and new construction.  Reimbursement for new construction might be made at a lower percentage (I’m not sure of this, but it is possibly the case since the building was constructed for a life span of 75 years and we’re not there yet.  Another factor that might lower the percentage of reimbursement for a new school might be that there is no student population growth.) 

Bill Richmond   My second question concerns the fact that the state must come up with some new funding formula or else every town in the state will go bankrupt or stop teaching kids.  When will this be known, and will it provide relief from other restrictions as compensation?

Allen  Larson   This question applies both to the reassessment of how school buildings are paid for and also, more recognizably, to the formula that the state uses to determine its level of support for school operations.  In the school building context, which is the matter that directly affects our decision on May 5, the Department of Education head (Commissioner David Driscoll) and Governor Romney have been discussing this problem in open forums so that the public might become more aware of the significance of the problem.  

 

The status of the slated reimbursement 
from the Massachusetts
School Building Assistance Fund

        On two visits by the governor to the Cape, I have heard him talk about the $12 billion that is already in the pipeline in commitments to projects already slated for the School Building Assistance (SBA) Fund.  Commissioner Driscoll issued a moratorium earlier in the year on adding school districts to the existing list of building projects. He then allowed schools districts like Dennis-Yarmouth to squeak in line since they were already in the process of preparing an application. The opportunity to apply for reimbursement gets cut off on July 1 while the government (the administration and the legislature) try to figure out how to deal with both this school issue as well as the broader financial budgeting issues that are confounding the state currently all across the board.  At this point, anything is possible.

Tony Pierantozzi   To fully address Bill’s question as it applies to our operations, we all await clarifying court decisions that have not yet been concluded.  Current legal action is still in the courts.  One such action was originally the McDuffy filing. Many states have determined (through court decisions) that states must fund schools at a higher level.  Mandates to increase funding are in direct conflict with the no-new-taxes sentiment.  There is a provision in the current House bill that partially addresses this.  

Bill richmond    Currently the costs of building schools is, I think, very high, and it’s high basically because of the procurement and bidding laws, the review processes, and the prevailing-wage-rate laws.  My former architectural firm in Vermont and Maine once conducted a study for the Copley Hospital in Morrisville, Vermont, and our research showed that the federal grant they were contemplating would not cover the cost increases from paying the union contractors the prevailing wage rates.  The Massachusetts legislature is looking at a similar situation in this state, and if it passes some of the proposals that deal with these laws, what will be the effect on school construction costs?  Will they offset having no state funding or less state funding?

Allen  Larson    There has been some discussion about the prevailing-wage-rate laws, also referred to as project labor agreements, or PLAs.  I am told by some architects that these requirements add as much as 30 percent and more to the cost of construction than would otherwise be paid if school districts were able to pay along the lines of actual wage rates in their specific communities. The Beacon Hill Institute has done a study on this that is the most current one and the one most commonly referred to in the present discussion.  It can be found by going to their Web site www.beaconhill.org.  You can scroll down easily and find the report, The Effects of Project Labor Agreements in Massachusetts.

 

The impact of not renovating the
high school on its accreditation

Bill Richmond    I've also been told that the school's accreditation is on the line.  How can the state not give an extension under the circumstances?

Allen  Larson     The accreditation is not a problem if we can show that there is a plan in place even if it will take time to implement it.  The key element of the plan is the extent to which there is a legitimate, reliable source of revenue to pay for the changes necessary.

Tony Pierantozzi     The accreditation status could drop from “warning” to “probation” if progress isn’t made.

 

The plan for financing the renovations

Bill Richmond    If the state money doesn't start flowing for 8 or 10 years, we're going to have to pay interest on it for most of that time.  How does that figure into this picture?  I assume we have to borrow the interest as part of the $33 million package.

Allen  Larson    The reimbursement applies to principal and interest. 

tony Pierantozzi    Reimbursement covers all costs including interest.  It is expensive.  Like a home improvement loan with someone else’s paying a portion.  The total estimated cost over 28 years for a home assessed in the median range in Yarmouth is approximately $750 with the reimbursement from the state for the school renovation costs.  The fiscal plan is well defined.  It includes all design, legal work, and construction costs, as well as all the short- and long-term costs (bonds).  The $750 covers it all.

Allen Larson   Assuming we go forward, once the bonds are sold, what happens to the money while it sits waiting to be spent on construction costs?  Does it earn interest?  And if so, for whom?

Roundtable pages [1], [2].