Middle School project cuts mulled before STM

By Betsy Levinson - betsy@theconcordbridge.org
January 4, 2023

The Concord School Committee recently made a list of “alternate deducts” to the Middle School project if the estimate is higher than the $110M, which is due to be voted on at the Jan. 19 special Town Meeting.

The committee’s package of potential reductions include $1.5 million for athletic fields, $300,000 on landscaping, wood-look ceilings for a $190,000 reduction and $84,000 on bleachers.

School Committee Chair Alexa Anderson said the committee “voted to advance a capital article for the Select Board’s consideration.”

At a Town Meeting a year ago, the voters approved $102.8M to construct a new middle school. But since then, costs have pushed the budget estimates up significantly, and voters must approve another $7.2 million, or the school as designed will be scrapped and the process will begin anew with the $102.8M in hand.

“I see no reason (the budget) would come in above the 60 percent estimate,” she said, although the more complete 90 percent estimate is due before the Jan. 19 meeting.

But “we can’t predict the future,” said Anderson.

She said she proposed the article because “we needed a safety net in the event that estimates or bids exceed the $110M set by the Select Board,” and the items on the alternate deduct list are not actual reductions in scope. “Instead they will be cost deferments, which means we will eventually need to find a way to pay for these items.”

Committee member Court Booth said it was “premature to take a stand,” before the 90 percent estimate.

“I think we should hold off now,” he said. He suggested that the Community Preservation Fund has contributed to fields in the past, among other priorities, and that this year, the CPA had more money than projects to support.

“Some of us in this town are going to have a very difficult time with this,” said Booth. He said the needs of the schools must be balanced with the needs of those that support them. Booth said one out of 12 families in Concord is “food insecure” and would be burdened by the added tax.

Booth noted that the tax increase required to pay down the debt for the middle school project comes on the heels of the tax increases in place for the other school projects and town capital needs.

State aid from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) is not forthcoming.

If the article does not pass at the Town Meeting or at the polls in mid-February, the budget will revert to the $102.8 already approved and necessitate redesigning the project.

Booth posited that the potential reductions are “a solution to a problem that has not been defined.” He added that the new article, as discussed at the meeting, might “jeopardize the project” and cost the committee credibility.