$72m school project moves to next phase

TOLLAND – With a positive vote in Tolland last night, approval of the renovation of three Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional schools is rounding the home stretch.
The next step is for the three towns in the district to approve an override in separate special election ballots Jan. 31.
The article to fund the $72 million project, 60 percent of which will be reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), was approved by more than the required two-thirds vote at Tolland Town Hall last night with a vote of 46-1.
The article was also approved in Granville on Monday and in Southwick on Tuesday. The majority of Granville voters supported the debt exclusion with a vote of 102-22. In Southwick, while the majority of voters approved the article, it was a closer call for the required two-thirds, with a vote of 446-183.
The MSBA requires communities to approve funding the entire cost of the project, which will be reimbursed later. If any of the three towns does not pass the override Jan. 31, Superintendent Dr. John Barry said “the project fails permanently.”
The Jan. 31 vote is the second vote in a two-part legal process as required by the MSBA. The ballot question will ask voters in all three towns to approve a proposition 2.5 override.
Proposition 2.5 is a Massachusetts statute which limits property tax increases by Massachusetts municipalities. It was passed by ballot initiative, specifically called an “initiative petition” within Massachusetts state law, in 1980 and went into effect in 1982. The effort to enact the proposition was led by the anti-tax group Citizens for Limited Taxation. The name of the initiative refers to the 2.5 percent annual limit on the increase in taxes that a municipality is permitted. An override allows a municipality to tax over the 2.5 percent limit, thus increasing property taxes.
Based on a four-percent bond, which Barry said is a “conservative” estimate, average Tolland property tax payers would pay an additional $110 per year for 25 years. In Southwick, the average is an additional $394, and in Granville it is an additional $329 for the average tax payer. However,  the town of Granville can expect significant savings by joining the regional district and the town government has promised to set aside those savings to pay the debt exclusion. Unless the town cannot operate within its budget, residents will not see a tax increase.
The project addresses numerous repairs at Woodland Elementary School, Powder Mill Middle School and Southwick-Tolland Regional High School. In order for the MSBA to approve a campus-wide approach to the project – with extra incentives of nearly $20 million – the district had to expand to include Granville. All three towns approved regionalizing last fall.
Plans for Woodland School include replacing windows and mechanical upgrades. Grades three and four would move to Powder Mill, which will become an intermediate school for grades three – six. Powder Mill would receive extensive repairs and upgrades, including mechanical system replacement, window replacement and more. The high school would also include a middle school wing for grades seven and eight. The middle school and high school wings would be separate by shared spaces including the gym and library.
Barry said with the combination middle/high school, all students in grades seven through 12 would be able to participate in athletics, extracurricular activities and arts programs.
Voters in Granville, Southwick and Tolland will have a final opportunity to cast a ballot for or against the proposed project and debt exclusion.

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