HANOVER — The South Shore Tech School Committee, in a special meeting, on Monday, April 26 lowered the amount it is recommending for its debt authorization article to $10,516,372.
The funds are aimed at making renovations and “extraordinary repairs” to the school.
Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey recommended revising the article going before the eight member towns’ annual town meetings over the next few months.
“The needs remain the same,” he said of the school with the main building constructed in 1962. “A lot of what we want to do here is to preserve fixed assets. We want this school to go very deep into the 21st Century.”
He argued that borrowing is part of doing that in the most affordable way as opposed to larger annual capital budgets.
The Committee had approved $18,960,537 on April 5, the recommendation approved this week reduced it to $10,516,372 — the equivalent of the first three years of the five-year plan. Financial advisers were able to more confidently forecast lower interest rates over three years, according to Hickey.
“I see this as a more affordable way of us meeting the needs of the school building and students,” Hickey said. “We’re looking for the tools to manage future projects to make them more affordable for our communities.”
The vote has no effect on fiscal ’22 or the assessments sought in that budget, he said, but would start them off with two years of interest-only borrowing. The $10 million would be rolled over into a 20-year bond in fiscal ’25 and more flexibility in interest rates and financing structures at that point. Hickey said he will make the financial analysis available to the towns.
“Since [the April 5] vote, we have learned that the Hanson Finance Committee has taken a vote to not recommend the article,” Hickey explained. “As you all know, our ability to borrow money depends on us being a good partner with our sending communities and, also, our ability to secure all eight towns’ support.”
The debt authorization article and assessment figure was passed by Scituate Town Meeting on Monday, April 12. Cohasset Selectmen have voted to recommend the debt authorization article to voters at their Town Meeting. Hanson, Rockland and Hanover have town meetings on Monday, May 3. Whitman’s will be in early June.
Hickey said that a reduction in the overall authorization shows that SST is working to be responsive to the financial condition of the communities without necessarily watering down the district’s plans.
“The towns have been very willing to communicate, give us time in front of their respective boards of selectmen and finance or advisory committees, so that certainly has been very helpful,” Hickey said at the Wednesday, April 21 meeting.
Hanson’s Finance Committee voted against recommending the debt authorization, setting up Monday’s meeting.
“We all now that this debt authorization article, in order for anything to move forward, is going to require, essentially, the support of all eight towns,” he said, noting the school is going to recommend consideration to using the phase-in plan to reduce the amount to the first three years.
As the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) prepares for high schools to fully reopen next, Hickey said SST will be among the schools seeking a waiver from the three-foot social distancing rule because of the size of classrooms at the school.
“I think we’ve done admirable work all year long being in school as much as we have,” Hickey said, saying he asked for a visit from a DESE team to front-load the process of complying with the reopening. He said he will be seeking suggestions on how to maximize the use of space, and described it as a “good visit, short of us making a 750 square-foot classroom into 1,000 square-foot classroom.”
“There’s only so much extra furniture you can take out of those classrooms,” he said.
Hickey said measurements were taken and a “good dialog” took place, but he will have updates on the issue at a later meeting.
In the meantime, the MSBA did not invite SST into the eligibility period for renovation funds, which was expected, and the school will try again.
The Committee approved the application, through a statement of interest, for the next round of applications. That permits the district to make updates to its need.