MSBA denies Hanson Maquan funds
HANSON — The question of what to do with Hanson and Whitman school facilities is taking on a new urgency now that the Massachusetts School Building Authority has declined Hanson’s most recent application for financial and technical assistance for a Maquan School redevelopment project.
The School Committee plans to meet on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to identify priorities and plans for school buildings and programs, and consider drafting a new statement of interest seeking state assistance.
The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in the Whitman-Hanson Regional High School library. State representatives Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, and Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman, as well as state Sen. Michael Brady, D-Brockton, will attend. The meeting will focus on state education funding, said Whitman-Hanson Regional School Committee Robert Hayes.
Hanson selectmen plan to attend. Selectman Kenneth Mitchell suggested a joint meeting for the school and select boards, and said Hanson Selectmen could vote at the Jan. 13 meeting to submit whatever statement of interest results from the meeting.
Hayes, who attended the Tuesday, Jan. 5 Hanson selectmen meeting, said there has been some discussion of shelving plans for the Maquan School and instead seeking assistance for putting an addition onto the Indian Head School, although nothing is etched in stone. The last project that failed was to combine the Indian Head and Maquan schools.
“You have to submit a statement of interest. It’s a very lengthy process,” he said. “There are definitely no guarantees.”
Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young said nothing has changed with the Maquan School building except that problems there are now a couple of years older.
Young said the statement of interest starts the process of getting assistance, but nothing is guaranteed.
“This is the foot in the door,” he said.
In a Dec. 18 letter to school Superintendent Ruth Gilbert-Whitner, the school building thanked the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District for their interest in the state’s 2015 statement of interest (SOI) grant program for school building construction, renovation and repair.
The MSBA fielded 97 statements of interest from 67 school districts last year for consideration.
“In reviewing SOIs, the MSBA identifies the school facilities that have the greatest and most urgent need based on an assessment of the entire cohort of SOIs that are received for consideration each year,” reads the letter, signed by MSBA Chief Executive Officer Maureen G. Valente and Executive Director/Deputy CEO John K. McCarthy.
“Through the MSBA’s due diligence process and review of the 97 SOIs that we received for consideration in 2015, the MSBA has determined that the Maquan Elementary School SOI will not be invited into the MSBA’s Eligibility Period at this time,” the letter states.
Selectman James McGahan said he wanted a more specific reason in the letter for why the regional school district did not get MSBA approval for the Maquan School project.
Three or four years ago, the town applied to the MSBA for the project and got approval, yet the town did not get approval for it this time, McGahan said.
Hayes said the MSBA letter indicated that the regional school district, if they would like for the Maquan School to be considered for future collaboration with the MSBA, should file a new statement of interest for 2016. The MSBA was scheduled to start accepting SOIs on Jan. 8.
“The letter is somewhat vanilla, but they say they are still interested,” Hayes said. “There’s only so much money to go around.”
Hanson resident John Barata asked if the state’s denial of Maquan School application in 2015 had to do with the town voting down funding for the school project.
Hayes said the MSBA is not supposed to look at past projects and is supposed to look at each project as it comes.
“They have to go on need,” he said.
Young said the MSBA would not hold a grudge against Hanson.
Not all of the school building news Tuesday was bad.
Hayes told selectmen that final costs connected to the Indian Head School came in under contractors’ estimates. As a result, a $645,290 contract will be decreased by $4,510.
Hanson will see an additional savings of $3,500 for seeding and loaming in connection with the roof project, Hayes said.
Interim Town Administrator Richard LaCamera said the school department has submitted a $5million capital request for next year, which, he added, realistically is impossible to fund.
LaCamera said Town Meeting is going to come very quickly, and the capital improvement and finance committees as well as his office need more information on what should be done, and how town capital funding next year would be affected by an MSBA grant application.
“What are we supposed to be doing?” he said.
Hayes said the school district still has the responsibility to address and fund capital needs, regardless of MSBA approval, and that Whitman-Hanson maintains a matrix or list of capital needs.
LaCamera said this year’s school capital request lists a number of items with notes that architects and engineers would need to do studies to estimate project costs, itself an expense.
Hayes said the School Committee planned to discuss and prioritize capital needs items at the next meeting.
Hanson resident Leigh-Ann Silva asked how the credit from the Indian Head project would be re-allocated, and suggested that voters at Town Meeting draw from it for architectural and engineering studies to estimate at least some of the school capital need costs for next year.
Hayes said the credit would be returned to the town, and LaCamera said money for one project cannot be reallocated to another unless Town Meeting approves.
Hanson resident Kimberly King praised school and town officers for working well together to accomplish the Indian Head school building project. King said this time, Hanson should think about not just an addition to the Indian Head School, but maybe looking into an addition at the middle school.
McGahan said there is an idea being floated, though generally not well received, for a regional middle school.
“All of these options will be vetted out,” he said.
In other business, Selectmen tabled and took under advisement a request by Green Harbor Dispensary for a letter of approval or non-opposition and, ultimately, a special permit from Hanson to open a medical marijuana dispensary and/or cultivation site in Hanson, perhaps on Winter Street near the Hanover line.
In a Dec. 23 letter to board Chairman Young, Robert Schnibbe, chief executive officer of the Green Harbor Dispensary, said the dispensary hopes to be invited to have an opportunity to present their program to town administration and selectmen, as the special permitting process moves forward.
“The Green Harbor Dispensary has an impressive management team, a comprehensive security solution and well thought out vision for our dispensary. Our team is composed of business professionals that live and work in the immediate area and are committed to being responsible corporate citizens and good neighbors,” states the letter, signed by Schnibbe.
Young said Green Harbor would be a first in Hanson and that selectmen act as the licensing authority for licensing medical marijuana facilities.
LaCamera said the town would need to negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, as Green Harbor is a non-profit organization and non-taxable.
The dispensary must still apply for a special permit and go through the zoning Board of Appeals, he said.