WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Thursday evening voted unanimously to appropriate the debt to pay for the $64.8 million school building project.
The vote sends the issue to the regional school district's member towns, which the committee hopes will hold a debt exclusion vote by mid-March.
On Jan. 27, the building project is scheduled to be approved by the board of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which has told the district it will be reimbursed with state funds to the tune of 59.68 percent for the reimbursable portions of the addition/renovation project.
As of Thursday, the School District has two estimates for the final district share of the project: $31.5 million and $35.3 million. It will be more than 40 percent of the total project cost because not all features are reimbursable by MSBA.
Per the recently revised regional agreement, Lanesborough would bear about 32 percent of the district's share at the start of the borrowing; that percentage could change over the life of the bond depending on student population and property values in Williamstown and Lanesborough.
Given that cost sharing ratio, The $31.5 million (optimistic) projection would end up costing Williamstown property owners $1.42 per $1,000 of valuation and Lanesborough property owners $1.61/$1,000. The pessimistic $35.3 million pricetag would add a projected $1.60 to the Williamstown tax rate and $1.81 to the Lanesborough tax rate.
"As we know, interest rates hav been historically low," School Building Committee member Hugh Daley said. "They are staring to trend up. We have a financing plan here I personally consider a 'no-worse' plan, but there is interest rate risk the longer we wait.
"If we bring it to market sooner, we will save some money. Over a 27- or 28-year bond, a half point of interest is real money."
The timing of the bond is just one reason why school district officials hope the member towns hold the debt exclusion vote quickly. In addition to the MSBA's timetable, the building project's construction manager has developed an aggressive timeline that hinges on being able to start the next design phase in early spring.
If it stays on track, shovels could be in the ground in August, classes in the new three-story academic wing could be held in September 2018, and the parts of the current building destined for demolition (essentially, the old academic wings) will be gone by October 2018.
"A month has a real impact on the Turner [Construction] timetable," said Trip Elmore of owners project manager Dore and Whittier of Newburyport. "It has been worked out so you move at very specific times. ... If you miss a month, you impact the job by six to eight months. And that's very important.
"You can't start design until the vote has happened. It's all linked."
Williamstown's Board of Selectmen already has expressed a desire to hold a debt exclusion vote on March 1, to coincide with the presidential primary. Lanesborough's board is weighing whether it wants to call a special town meeting to debate the building project first and has not settled on a date for the debt-exclusion vote.
The special town meeting is tentatively set for Feb. 9 in Lanesborough. Because of state-mandated deadlines around warning a ballot vote, the latest one can be scheduled for March 1 would be on Jan. 25, School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene said on Thursday.
Thursday's joint meeting of the School Building Committee and School Committee allotted about an hour for public comment, but the committees heard from just a few residents, all of whom spoke glowingly about the work of the School Building Committee and its various task groups.
"I think you made a tremendous effort to reach out into the community to bring the quality of the building in line with the extraordinary education already being provided here," said Valerie Hall, a former chairman of the Williamstown School Committee."
Williamstown Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Jane Patton also thanked the committees for their efforts.
"The work you have done is amazing," Patton said before adding, in reference to the coming town votes, "The time is now."
Three chairs of the SBC task groups — Daley on finance, Wendy Penner on green building initiatives and Principal Mary McDonald on education program — used some of the time allotted for public comment to explain their groups' efforts. Elmore then gave an overview of the process, emphasizing how the School Building Committee trimmed the district's contribution to the project over the last few months.
Last summer, Dore & Whittier was tentatively estimating the non-reimbursable project share (i.e., that part that comes entirely from the district) at about $16 million. That number stands at $8 million now, Elmore reported.
"We influenced the part the project that was going to be 100 percent owner paid for," Elmore said. "And we kept the part that is going to be about 60-percent supported by the state alone. Essentially, you're getting the same amount from the state."
And Elmore stressed that cost reductions will continue to be sought during the design process.
He emphasized that the MSBA would not allow the district to add to the scope of the project, but it would welcome any changes that eliminated line items already in the budget. Any money saved by cuts must go toward reducing the bottom line.
"If you have another $3 million, you can't add a swimming pool," Elmore said. "You cannot increase the scope."
School Building Committee member Robert Ericson encouraged Elmore and the rest of the design team to begin that "value engineering" process as soon as possible.
"The earlier you can do it, the less time you waste in the design phase," Ericson said.
In addition to Ericson, a Lanesborough selectman, and Daley, a Williamstown selectman, who serve on the School Building Committee, Thursday's meeting was attended by Williamstown Selectmen Patton and Anne O'Connor and Lanesborough Selectman Henry Sayers. Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch also attended.
The next School Building Committee meeting is Jan. 28, when the panel will approve explanatory language to be used in community forums it plans to host in each member town in February. There also is a page on the district's website, www.wlschools.org