YARMOUTH — Voters will be asked Nov. 6 to authorize bonds to build a new public safety building and make improvements to local schools.
The Town Council last month voted in favor of asking residents to approve borrowing $8.5 million to build a public safety facility on North Road for the police and fire and emergency medical service departments and to free space in Town Hall for Community Services.
Last week, the council also voted unanimously to send to referendum a two-part question, as recommended by the School Committee, for improvements to town schools.
The proposal is driven by projected enrollment increases.
Part 1 will ask voters to authorize $40 million in borrowing for the renovation and expansion of Yarmouth Elementary School; expansion and installation of security measures at Yarmouth High School; a capital roof project at Harrison Middle School; and restroom upgrades at Rowe School. The funds would include design, engineering and site improvements for all the projects.
Part 2 will be contingent on Part 1 and will ask voters to approve an additional $12.2 million for construction and expansion of Rowe School, Harrison Middle School, and a capital roof project at Yarmouth High School. Design, engineering and site improvements would be included.
If all three questions pass, Town Manager Nat Tupper has recommended bonding over 30 years, which would impact property taxes by an estimated 8.2 percent in the peak year and by an average of 7.9 percent in the first 10 years, declining in subsequent years.
An initial cost estimate for the school projects, which the School Committee shared with the council last fall, was about $32 million. However, in May, the School Department received a detailed estimate that nearly doubled the projected cost, due in part to increased construction costs and more clearly defined needs. In addition, the need for new roofs at the middle and high schools became apparent.
According to the School Department’s website, safety concerns also arose that prompted proposals to upgrade school security features.
“The earlier estimate was conceptual,” the website says. “… This was a high-level, rough estimate arrived at by the architectural firm after several months of work, looking at enrollment projections and talking with school staff.”
During a Sept. 5 meeting, Chairman Rob Waeldner proposed sending a single question asking for $52 million to voters, rather than in two parts, saying he’s been convinced that the “full amount is necessary.”
“In my view … this really has to happen … to make our schools suitable for the education we want to supply our kids,” Waeldner said. “… To ask the question in two parts I think is a little misleading to voters. If they approve (part one) and turn down (part two), we’ve been told (the School Department) will come back and ask for (part two).”
The motion failed 4-1, with Waeldner and Councilor April Humphrey in favor of amending the proposal.
Councilor Pat Thompson said she worried that asking for the full amount in one question would “jeopardize the outcome.”
“I don’t know if (voters) will dismiss it because it’s too large of a number … The two-part question perhaps is more palatable … to the voter,” Thompson said, adding that she’d like to “honor” the School Committee’s recommendation.
The council also had the option of modifying the total combined bond request, but this was not considered on Wednesday.
After councilors spoke in united support of the project in full, a motion to submit the two-part question to voters passed unanimously.
“I hope everyone understands … that the motion of breaking this up in two bonds should not be seen by anyone as a signal that the second bond is optional or not needed,” Councilor Tim Shannon said. “… This amount of money is what’s needed for the schools … This is a lean and fair proposal … I hope we pass all of it.”
Assuming voter approval, the project is expected to take three years to complete. Most of the 2018-19 school year would be spent developing final plans and putting the projects out to bid, hoping to break ground in summer 2019. The anticipated opening for all projects would be fall 2021.
The School Committee will hold two more public forums on the proposed projects at the high school on Sept. 24 and Oct. 4.
If borrowing is approved in November, the public safety facility would be built where the fire station, which would be demolished, stands at 178 North Road. A new facility would be built to house both departments and an Emergency Operations Center.
Moving the Police Department to North Road would open up space in Town Hall for Community Services, which has outgrown the portable classroom behind Town Hall where it’s now housed.
The North Road Fire Station was built in 1976, when the town operated three fire stations; it was designed for “smaller apparatus.” Since then, fire and medical calls have increased four-fold, from approximately 400 in 1976 to 1,634 in 2017.
A 35-year-old modular building behind the station, previously used by the School Department, serves as office and living space for fire/EMS.
According to Schiavi Mobile Homes, the life expectancy of the building was only 20 years. Much like the Community Services building, the space was meant to be temporary.
If all goes as planned, construction would likely begin in spring 2019 and be completed in spring 2020.