HANOVER — Faced with the need for expansion to accommodate new educational standards and increasing enrollment — and having been passed over twice in recent years for MSBA funding — South Shore Regional Vocational Educational Technical High School is preparing to make the argument to go ahead with the work on its own.
“We want to serve the communities and the taxpayers who are sending their students here, certainly, but the status quo isn’t good enough anymore,” said Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey. “Knowing what we want and asking once is important.”
That means preparing information to present to member communities illustrating the need for expansion, as well as how it can be done, with or without borrowing funds, to accomplish all the goals.
On Thursday, July 13 members of the SSVT Regional School Committee’s Capital Projects Subcommittee met to discuss that work, with the issue slated to go before the full committee on Wednesday, July 19.
“The Capital Projects Subcommittee is a logical place to start in terms of determining what steps we might take,” Hickey said. “A well-documented plan is expected to address that across the board.”
The aim is development of a master facilities plan encompassing the relative health of the building, such as Tri-County Vocational in Wakefield produced last year. Hickey supplied copies to the subcommittee for reference.
“We all know the motivation for the discussion — increased enrollment, increased demand — the building is not getting any younger,” Hickey said. “We know we need more space, what’s inside the space we have needs to be modernized, and there’s no guarantee that we’re going to get any support from the [Mass. School Building Authority] MSBA.”
The state funding agency has limited funds and an increasing number of applicants, some with more acute need. SSVT’s stabilization fund allows the school to plan and present an adequate argument to the member towns.
Possible out-buildings in which to place shops to free up space for other purposed in the main building are an option. Such self-contained buildings that are affordable within a budget year, are about 6,000 square feet are the type of project that the school can fund on its own in a single budget year. That size is considered helpful, but is not likely to be a lot in “the world of vocational shop space,” Hickey said.
The school, surrounded by wetlands does not have a lot of buildable space available and it uses a septic system because sewerage is not available.
Larger projects, perhaps a larger one that can be funded through borrowing or through a “deeper part of the stabilization fund, something that we could not have our kids in their shops do” are also possible.
“There’s not a whole lot that our kids can’t do,” said committee member Robert Mahoney of Rockland. He noted that the panel is not looking for the funding for a $100,000 feasibility study or a $6 million building. “We’re coming [to towns] for X-amount of dollars to buy eight out-buildings that’s going to be very minimal to bring us up to where we need to be.”
Septic capacity should also be included in any feasibility study in case an expansion project triggers the need for adding a wastewater treatment facility for the school, Hickey advised. Septic capacity hinges on the demand and number of fixtures in the building.
When the new wing was completed in 1993 there were 460 students at SSVT with 650 expected as of the 2017-18 school year.
Hickey said that, while enrollment in sending towns is trending down, SSVT’s enrollment for those towns is holding steady — with out-of-disctrict enrollments increasing.
“We’ve got to stop what we’re doing,” Cohasset member Kenneth Thayer said “We’ve got to expand the building, get the building up to snuff. Students should be able to come in and go to school here. We want to add to it.”
He forecast that the new horticulture/landscaping and plumbing programs will be very popular, necessitating new space. He advocated that, if five out-buildings can be constructed, it may be cheaper to do now than “down the road.”
Hickey said, given present space constraints, the horticulture program may have to limit its first class to about 12 students. Building toward 50 by the time those freshmen graduate.
“Other then metal fabrication-welding, every shop has a footprint that is smaller than the Department of Education’s recommended square footage,” he said. Metal fabrication used to share space with industrial technology, which was discontinued 15 years ago.
The autobody shop is also being required to expand with another, enclosed, bay for welding aluminum. Certification for the program will hinge on that.
“It’s not a crisis right now, but NATEF [National Automotive Technician’s Education Foundation] has told us that, when we come back in 2020 or 2021, we won’t be able to certify the program if the existing footprint does not contain a segregated area for aluminum work,” Hickey said. “It’s that the industry is doing more aluminum work, and if you do regular collision repair work, and aluminum work, it could contaminate equipment.”
There was some good news on the feasibility study front, however.
Hickey said the school has an advantage in that it has local people who know construction and know the building well. Engineering firms would spend time obtaining that information.
“If you ask me what programs are most limiting with their space, I’m going to tell you it’s the ones that are over-subscribed and it is not safe to have the ratios,” he said. “We’re going to talk about the heavy-equipment programs.”
Mahoney wants to see out-buildings used to accommodate present students, rather than using them to attract more at this point. Weight, ceiling height requirements and MSBA time limitations following previous roof projects limit options for adding another floor to the school.
“The good news is we have the capacity to look into this,” Hickey said.