The proposal to renovate or rebuild Watertown High School was accepted by the Massachusetts School Building Authority on Wednesday morning, meaning approximately half the cost of the project will be reimbursed by the state assuming Watertown clears the remaining hurdles.
Watertown Superintendent Dede Galdston sent out a Tweet at 11:20 a.m. announcing that the project was accepted in the the MSBA.
The MSBA Board just unanimously voted to invite Watertown into the Eligibility Period for a core program project for Watertown High school!
— Deanne Galdston (@WatertownSupt) December 13, 2017
This was the fourth time that Watertown School officials had applied to get funding to renovate the aging high school, and it had already made it farther than previous efforts by being considered for being admitted into the program.
Galdston said simply in an email, “We are thrilled!!!” when asked about the invitation into the MSBA program.
In October a team from the state toured Watertown High and spoke with people at the school. School and Town officials thanked MSBA officials for choosing Watertown High School as one of the projects to be considered in 2017-18, noting that since its inception in 2004, the MSBA has made over 1,750 site visits to more than 250 school districts and paid over $12.4 billion in reimbursements for school construction projects.
The press release also thanked others for their efforts to get the project this far.
“We would also like to thank the Watertown School Committee and the Watertown Town Council for approving and supporting our Statement of Interest for Watertown High School, as well as our State Senator William Brownsberger and our State Representatives John Lawn and Jonathan Hecht. And if it were not for the dedication and determination of the Master Planning Committee, comprised of school and town officials, parents, teachers, and community members, we would not be poised and ready to make the vision of Building For the Future a reality”
Being invited into the Eligibility Period of the program is a major step toward receiving millions in state dollars, but only the first. The Eligibility Period is the first of eight modules or steps for school construction, the press release said, with the next steps for Watertown in the coming months are to form a School Building Committee and to obtain preliminary requirements pertaining to local approval to move forward in the grant process.
The deadlines during the Eligibility Period are:
• Form a school building committee within 60 days
• Create an educational profile within 90 days
• Provide documentation of the district’s maintenance practices, and decide how many students the school should accommodate within 180 days.
• Within 270 days the community must vote to appropriate and authorize funding for the full amount of the project’s Feasibility Study, including the MSBA’s share (but not yet the full cost of construction)
If the project gets to the Feasibility Study, then the project must clear what will likely be the biggest remaining hurdle – approval from voters to pay for the town’s portion of the project. This will most likely require a Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion. The exact amount of the state reimbursement will not be known until later in the Eligibility Period, Galdston said. She added that the election for a debt exclusion will probably be in the first half of 2020, but that depends on factors within and outside the district’s control.
A master plan created by consultants from SMMA released in December 2016 estimated that the cost of renovating the high school to be able to provide a 21st Century education would be $53.4 million and rebuilding the school would cost $131.5 million. The state will cover nearly half that amount, but Watertown must pay for the rest.
Before a vote can occur, a schematic design must be created as part of the Feasibility Study. Then the MSBA will vote on the Feasibility stud. If approved, detailed designs can be made and construction can go ahead.
The MSBA’s invitation comes a day after Watertown School officials received good news about the other major upcoming building project. Tuesday night the Town Council voted to approve borrowing $1,378,599 to hire architects from Ai3 to create schematic designs for renovation or rebuilding the town’s three elementary schools. That project will be funded within the town’s budget without an override, according to Town Manager Michael Driscoll, but the money to pay the architects had to be borrowed.
Both the High School and the elementary school projects will be discussed at a School Committee meeting on Monday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Council Chambers in Town Hall. Representatives from Ai3 will be there to present an overview of the evaluation and schematic design process for the elementary projects, and Galdston will discuss the high school project.