School Committee drafts capital plan for facility needs
Members of the Old Rochester Regional School Committee have drafted a 20-Year Capital Plan to fund facilities and maintenance needs at Old Rochester Regional High School.
The plan, said Old Rochester Superintendent Doug White, is in its very early days. It was requested by Suzanne Szyndlar, Paul Dawson and Mike Gagne, the town administrators of Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett, during a recent meeting.
The meeting came as the school committee begins to plan several potential facilities upgrades, ranging from routine tiling work to a potential $5 million athletic complex overhaul pitched by ORR TURF (Tri-Town Unified Recreational Facilities, Inc.). In order to help fund the requests, White said, the administrators asked to see a list of budget needs—the capital plan—ranked by priority.
The School Committee focused mainly on the possible athletic overhaul while discussing the draft of the plan. TURF is asking each town for $1.67 million to fund the overhaul, a number which has concerned Selectmen in all three towns and which led to the meeting between the towns' administrators and White.
"The main goal for the TURF Committee is to upgrade our facilities," said School Committee member Cary Humphrey. "The committee has spent so much time in coming up with a plan with numbers. It's just a matter of 'how can we make it happen?'”
“Our goal is to make sure our budget is not affected by it, and that’s always going to be a bit of a problem when you’re dealing with several towns," he added. "Depending on how its presented via priorities, it could work out for us.”
Hal Rood, a member of ORR TURF, was encouraged by the administrators' response to the potential athletic complex overhaul. "I was encouraged that they saw the needs and knew the facilities were at the end of their useful life," he said. They were motivated to help us work this out financially. They’ve helped to guide us through this process, and directed us to this 20-year capital plan."
"I'm looking at this as an investment over time. What do we need to propel ourselves forward, to create well-rounded students?" asked Old Rochester Regional School Committee Chair Tina Rood. "These items aren't 'wants', they're needs, and we need to look at them that way."
The list concerned some of the School Committee members. "What's the revenue source for this?" asked Heather Burke.
"Funding is strictly a debt situation," said Patrick Spencer. "The question is how the towns want to proceed from there. Town Meetings can accept or not accept what we’re trying to accomplish. If the money we ask for is approved, they have to figure out how to fund it. Most likely they’ll try to do a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion," he explained.
A Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion would allow towns to assess property taxes in excess of the state's 2.5 percent limit; the measure would need to be approved by voters at each town's Town Meeting, as well as at the ballot.
"Our concern," Spencer continued, "is that if they don't do a debt exclusion, it will drastically reduce the school's operating budget.”
"Once we have a list, we can work how the towns will support or raise funds," White said.
He said he would meet with the administrators again soon, bringing input from the School Committee with him.