The City Council voted unanimously on Monday night for a bond authorization to build a new Clark Avenue Middle School at a cost of $57,332,407 – with some 65 percent of those costs coming from the state School Building Authority (SBA).
The vote has been preceded with about two year’s worth of meetings and design charrettes and good old number crunching.
In the end, all 10 councillors voted to authorize the bonding and send it to the next step. Councillor Joe Perlatonda was absent from the vote, but has supported the school project.
Councillors Chris Cataldo and Brian Hatleberg have been working closely with the School Committee and the School Department to work out the design and the financing during the interim.
Both were very big supporters of the project.
“This is the big one,” said Hatleberg. “We have capacity to borrow all of the local share, but there are some options we’ll likely take advantage of to make it cheaper…While I’m discouraged about the cost we have to bear the burden of locally, it is what it is.”
Cataldo thanked all of the officials and councillors who have participated in the process to get the school to this point.
The last school project in Chelsea was close to 20 years ago.
“This project is just as important as any project we’ve talked about in the last 10 years,” said Councillor Calvin Brown. “If we want to provide the highest quality education for our kids, we’ll make sure this gets done soon.”
Councillor Dan Cortell also voiced his support for the school and said that despite the cost, he’s all for it.
The actual cost of the school’s local share is $19.7 million, with the state picking up $37.6 million of that share.
So far, design is at about 50 percent right now.
The construction would come in two phases, with the older part of the school coming down first while students are on summer vacation. That would go into an 18 month construction period on the three story classroom wing that runs along Crescent Avenue. The remaining part of the school would be demolished during summer vacation, and that would lead into having a one-year construction on the gym, cafeteria and administrative offices.
Students would be housed by grade on each of the three floors, and wouldn’t have to travel unless going to the library, gym or cafeteria.
It is designed for 670 students, which is about 120 more than the school currently houses. Some of the upgrades include:
- 28 general classrooms
- 4 science labs
- 2 ELL Classrooms (not currently at the Clark)
- 20 Small Group/Reading Rooms
- 1 Art Room, 1 Music Room and 1 Band room
- 2 Technology rooms
- Gym (same size)
- Performance Space (1.5 times larger)
- Library (2.5 times larger)
- Cafeteria (4 times larger)
- There is, however, no parking
“It’s going to be a longer construction period, but we expect kids to be in the new building in the fall of 2018,” said Margaret Wood of Pinck & Company, the City’s project manager.
The other discussion point – which doesn’t have to be decided until next year – is how to finance the project.
The City has the capacity to bond the entirety of the local share and still only have to pay $1 million in debt service per year. That was a plan affectionately called the “$1 million Plan” by Treasurer Bob Boulrice.
Assistant City Manager Ned Keefe said Chelsea is unique in that it has very low debt and can handle more.
“We have $24 million outstanding in General Obligation bonds right now,” said Keefe. “This will add to that debt, but the good news is our debt load is extremely low for a city of Chelsea’s size.”
That said, the problem with bonding the full share is that it will end up costing just over $30.9 million over the full term, including interest.
Boulrice said they took the challenge to find a way to infuse Free Cash year by year in order to lower the costs. By using $2 million in Free Cash or Stabilization Funds per year through construction, the City would save $5 million in borrowing and the full cost with interest would go down to $19.6 million.
“I can also say there are even better plans than this,” he said. ‘Based on what happens in the future, there are even more savings we could have…If things hold as they have held and revenues hold solid, the contributions you see here can go forward and the levels we want to see in the Stabilization Fund can be held…It looks good, but a new administration may come in and want to do a lot of new things.”
School officials said the next step now will be working on detailed construction documents and preparing to remove asbestos next year from the older portion of the school.