Yarmouth weighs borrowing at least $40M for schools

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council next month will consider a proposal from the School Committee for a two-part voter referendum on borrowing at least $40 million for school improvements.

The first question would seek approval for renovation and expansion of Yarmouth High School and Yarmouth Elementary School, with minor work at William H. Rowe School and Harrison Middle School, at an estimated cost of $39.8 million.

The follow-up question would be for the renovation and expansion of Rowe School and HMS, with capital improvement work through the district, at an estimated cost of nearly $12.2 million.

The committee on July 12 debated whether to recommend one bond question valued at either the $39.8 million figure or the total $52 million, but ultimately voted 3-2 in favor of a two-part question. Passage of the second question will be contingent on passage of the first question.

“This was so we can assure that (part) 1, which represents the most immediate needs of the district, is considered as a standalone question,” Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff said July 16. “(Part) 2 can then be considered and, hopefully, approved by voters who understand that we may be able to experience economies of scale and reduce the overall cost of the projects by completing them simultaneously.”

This comes after the ad hoc Facilities Committee’s decision last month to scale back the scope of their proposed work on all four schools after learning cost projections were higher than anticipated.

“One of the positive attributes of the two-part question is that the committee is showing its respect for the voters,” Dolloff said. “… We have been talking about a project somewhat less than $40 million for over a year now, and the sticker shock of rapidly rising construction costs inhibits our ability to provide all of this necessary work without major concerns about rising taxes.”

Part 1 would cover costs for the complete renovation and expansion of the elementary school and expansion of the high school to accommodate a growing student population; roof replacement at HMS; minor work at Rowe, such as bathroom improvements, and exterior work at HMS to bring exits up to code.

If voters approve part 1, they would then be asked if they also approve of the additional expansion and renovation of Rowe and Harrison, along with roof repairs at the high school.

“We’re all sensitive to that concern and trying to find the best way to provide basic facilities for our growing enrollment while giving the voters a say in how that is timed,” Dolloff said. “We may be able to delay the smaller project a year or two, but it is clear that, if both parts of the question do not pass, we will be back before the voters sooner rather than later to address the capacity issues at Rowe School and the middle school.”

In the interim, a portable classroom will be added to Rowe for the next school year.

The Facilities Committee began meeting throughout the 2016-17 school year to explore solutions to address needs at all four schools.

According to the School Department website, YES is the oldest building in the district at more than 60 years. Though it is in “good shape structurally,” a major renovation of the existing building will provide the upgrades needed to “keep the school viable for decades to come.”

The capacity of the expanded school will be 689, with a projected enrollment in 2027 of 612. Fifth grade will be moved from Harrison to YES to avoid a similar expansion at Harrison.

At Yarmouth High School, the plan is to move the main entrance and fitness center, expand the cafeteria and performing arts area, and add two classrooms to the northeast side of the building.

The capacity of the expanded school would be 700, with a projected 2027 enrollment of 653.

According to Dolloff, Rowe’s greatest needs come from the likelihood of adding pre-K or Child Development Services within the next few years.

According to the Facilities Committee’s presentation to the School Committee, the estimated impact of the referendum questions would be $83 and $47, respectively, in additional taxes per $100,000 of valuation in fiscal year 2023, which would be the highest year of repayment.

The Facilities Committee’s recommendation, as adopted by the School Committee, will be presented to the Town Council on Aug. 2 and considered further on Aug. 16.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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