Rochester Town Meeting OKs renovations, rejects press box

May 21, 2019

ROCHESTER — Cheers and applause erupted at Rochester Memorial School, when the Town Moderator announced that a motion to borrow $2 million to finance an ORR high school renovation would continue to a town vote. A proposal to provide funds for handicap access to a press box was not so lucky, failing to make the required two thirds vote to transfer the proper funds. 

ORR School Committee members Cary Humphrey and Tina Rood appeared before Town Meeting on May 20 to introduce the plan, which would override the state-mandated limits on taxes for fifteen years to fund construction of an artificial turf, resurface the track and replace the lights and sound system in the auditorium. 

Carlos Aguiar remembered that the advocacy group pushing for the project since 2015 (Tri-town Unified Recreation Facilites or T.U.R.F.) originally planned to renovate the entire athletic facility in stages. He asked how much it raised, and whether this proposed project would be just phase one of three. 

Humphrey said this would be this only phase of a modified plan. A representative from T.U.R.F. later clarified that it had raised $70,000, but much of those funds went into paying engineers.

Another Rochester resident asked if youth sports teams will be able to use the facilities. 

“Our intention would be to continue to allow youth teams,” Humphrey said. 

Meeting attendees also inquired on the cost of the project. Tina Rood responded that the cost per an average house will be $34.39 per tax year over 15 years on an average home value.

The questioner then wanted clarification on what the average home value is. Rood responded that it is $382,158..

Ken Dawson asked why the athletics and theater projects were lumped into one when they seem very different. 

Humphrey responded that both were part of a ten-year capital plan, and were picked as some of the most-needed projects.

Another Rochester resident asked if the amount of money due per year under the loan would change with ORR’s Rochester population over the course of the loan’s life. Rochester currently sends a little more than a third of the students, at 37 percent ORR enrollment, and will pay slightly more than the average Marion or Mattpoisett household.  

Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar said “regardless of how things change, it would not change [the amount of] this borrowing.” 

In introducing the press box project Rochester’s Justin Shay said that the Booster Club had raised funds for the box, which was “five or six times what we usually spend on projects.”

Though he said the group has raised about $55,000 they need an additional $60,000 to make the box handicap-accessible, as required by law. 

Shay said the project was approved with a unanimous vote in Marion and Mattapoisett, and that a Rochester approval would allow students with disabilities that might not allow them to join sports the chance to participate. His comment was met with applause.

Selectman Woody Hartley was weary of the project, not for its content, but because it “sets a precedent that I don’t like. Give taxpayer dollars to a private organization? Is that what we should be doing with our taxpayer dollars?” he asked. 

The motion failed to get the 2/3 approval required to use the stabilization funding that it requested.