Southwick’s next steps

SOUTHWICK – School Superintendent Dr. John Barry and members of the School Committee met with the Select Board last night to discuss next steps after the town voted down a debt exclusion last week to fund a portion of a proposed $72 million school renovation project.
Members of the School Building Committee (SBC) and dozens of residents attended the meeting, which was moved to the town hall auditorium to accommodate the crowd.
Barry said the district has until Feb. 14 to send a letter to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to officially notify the authority of the vote in Southwick, Tolland and Granville, offer the district’s understanding of the reason for failure of the ballot question, and propose a plan to remedy the project. Once the letter is received, Barry assumes the SBC will meet with the MSBA, but he does not know what will happen after that.
“There is no certainty of what will happen after we submit the letter,” said Barry. ‘They will analyze whatever remedy we suggest.”
Selectman Arthur Pinell asked what Barry meant specifically when he said “remedy.”
Barry said he has no specifics at this time. The school committee met last Thursday and again yesterday. Barry said there are three options right now, including doing nothing, taking another vote, and coming up with a revised version of the project.
“I don’t know if I, or the project manager, see any other options,” said Barry.
Pinell said he is not in favor of putting the question up for another vote because it would raise concerns about the integrity of the first vote.
“I am aware of all the serious concerns we need to address,” said Pinell. “I want to go forward, but the question becomes how do we do it?”
State Rep. Bicholas Boldyga is also hoping to see a revised plan.
“Obviously during the election we overwhelmingly heard from the voters,” said Boldyga. “They want to see a different solution to the building project and I am interested to see what is out there. The School committee and Select Board need to go back to the drawing board.”
The board and school committee agreed to hold special meetings to discuss options. The MSBA guidelines say that a town has 120 days  to secure funding for a project from the day it approves the project. Barry said last night the district has more than 40 days left until that 120-day deadline. However, Barry said there could be an extension granted.
Several proponents of the project said last night that they want the SBC and school committee to make it clear that the project has been in the works for 10 years.
“There was a process,” said Diane King. “There was a feasibility study that led to five options and there were many public informational meetings. A lot of people came in at the eleventh hour thinking they have all the information and they don’t. This is not an eleventh hour project.”
SBC Co-Chairperson Karen O’Connor addressed concerns from an audience member who said the Granville Village School was originally proposed to be used for early education, which would solve the issue of crowding at Woodland Elementary School. She said too many Southwick parents were concerned about busing their young children that far. O’Connor said there were numerous options explored and the project that was put forth was deemed the best option by the SBC as well as the MSBA.
O’Connor said the project addressed all the needs in Woodland, Powder Mill Middle School and the high school, and the necessary repairs alone add up to about $60 million. She added that once 30 percent of the school is renovated, the state mandates that everything must be up to code and Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.
One member of the audience suggested that the repairs and upgrades could be done one at a time because doing it all at once is a guarantee to exceed that 30 percent threshold.
“If your building is valued at a million dollars, it’s not hard to get to 30 percent,” said Southwick Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart.
Pinell, who ran the meeting in the absence of Chairman Fred Arnold, closed discussion and agreed to work with the school committee to come to a solution before next week’s deadline.

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