Support for middle school

I have been attending meetings and following the new Concord Middle School project closely, as a father and citizen. As your readers may know, after five years of hard work by many, unprecedented inflation-driven construction cost increases (exacerbated by a war) have impacted the project. After about $4M in project cuts (to help lessen the blow to taxpayers), current estimates are about $108M, or roughly $5M over the $102.8M approved by voters in February. A new set of estimates are expected in January, just before a Special Town Meeting on Jan. 19. This will allow voters to weigh-in on a warrant article to authorize additional borrowing/spending to avoid further delay and finally deliver the new middle school we need (and that was voted for in a landslide). Wisely, a “not to exceed” number was proposed for the warrant article by the 20-member Building Committee, to allow for a “if needed” buffer, just in case the final estimates/bids came in a little high. A recent, unexpected decision (rendered in a 3 to 2 vote) by the Select Board (October 28) shocked all-involved and threatens to derail the project. Below is a letter I wrote to the Select Board November 1, which I share here in hopes of informing citizens and driving community involvement (especially among parents and new residents) in current and future issues we face as a community.

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Concord Select Board:  I have recently learned about your decision to disregard the recommendation of the Middle School Building Committee and use a “not to exceed” number of $110M for the upcoming town meeting warrant article, instead of the safer and recommended $115M number. This is outrageous and threatens to derail the project at the 11th hour.

May I remind you that the February vote was 474 to 2122 in favor of the new middle school, as designed and as presented to voters. The vote at the town meeting was somewhere around 95 percent in favor. Granted, the price tag was $103M at that time, but inflation-related economic forces have impacted prices, as anyone can see.

And yet the Building Committee has conducted approximately 30 hours of value engineering meetings and cut millions from the project. Among a long list of cut items, were the bleachers in the gym. Now, after all of this work by so many, you have the audacity to disregard the recommendation of the Committee you charged with this project?

Because of this ill-advised decision, we now face the very real prospect of not having a middle school built — if the bids come in a dollar over your arbitrarily-assigned $110M cut-off. Similar projects at nearby schools are coming in 10 percent, 15 percent even 25 percent above estimates. We also might be forced to choose a sub-par builder, if only one bid comes in under. No one wants to spend more money or pay more in taxes than we have to, but we need and want the new middle school that was presented to us and voted-for in a landslide. We have all felt the historically unprecedented inflation-related cost of goods increases. Concord voters know what a buffer is. They know what “not to exceed” means.

I dearly hope the final estimates (and subsequent bids) come in under $110 million. If they do not, those of you who voted for this pennywise and pound foolish decision will bear full responsibility for costing Concord taxpayers many millions (or tens of millions) more than needed, as we will likely have to start this process over, yet again, as prices and interest rates march ever upward. Not to mention the impact to our students stuck in those decrepit buildings far-longer than necessary and the disrespect you have shown the volunteer Building Committee you tasked with the job.

Outraged and disappointed and fearful about what you have done,

Wilson Kerr

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