Thursday vote decides expansion and renovation
By Patriot staff
REGION – Voters of the ten towns in the Bay Path Regional Vocational School district will go to the polls on Thursday to make the decision on a $73.8 million expansion and renovation project. The expansion plan calls for the addition of 50,000 square feet for new classroom space and seven science labs to accommodate a student population that has increased to more than1,100 from 850 when the school was built 40 years ago. The renovations are needed to upgrade existing shops, classrooms, library and media center. The building also needs roof repairs, new HVAC systems, new windows, modification for handicapped accessibility, hazardous materials abatement, and code and energy updates.
The Massachusetts School building Authority (MSBA) will reimburse 63% of the cost, leaving the ten towns in the district to pay the remaining $27.3 million. The towns are expected to raise the money with a debt exclusion.
Webster's share will be $3.36 million, which is calculated to cost the average homeowner $10.97 in fiscal year 2014 and rising to a maximum of $33.73 in future years. Webster has 131 students attending Bay Path. The costs are based on a conservative 5% interest rate.
Dudley's share is $2.83 million, with an average homeowner cost cost of $16.15 in FY 2014, rising to a maximum of $49.64. The town has 128 students attending Bay Path.
Oxford's share is $3.31 million, with an average homeowner cost of $12.90 in FY 2014, rising to a maximum of $33.73 in future years. Oxford has 143 students at Bay Path.
Selectmen in Oxford have said they back the project. In Dudley, selectmen have said they support the project personally, but will let residents make their own decisions. In Webster, chairman of the Board of Selectmen Don Bourque has stated that he supports the project. In the spring, seven of the ten towns, including Webster, Dudley, and Oxford, rejected the proposal at their town meetings, leading to tomorrow's district-wide election.
Not everyone agrees that the project as planned is the right one. A Vote No to $73M committee, founded by Steven Maher of Auburn, maintains that the cost is excessive and that many of the repairs needed can be done through a recently established MSBA program called Accelerated Repair. This program provides funding reimbursement for major repairs such as new roofs and heating systems. The scope is broad enough to encompass some of the needed repairs at Bay Path, but it is not clear that it could include all aspects, the handicapped accessibility requirements, for example.
In answer to a request, Dan Collins, spokesman for the MSBA, said that the MSBA has approved only the $73.8 million capital project, and that it could not address “what if” questions should the project fail to receive the necessary majority vote.
The cost for the basic necessary repairs is estimated at $15.8 million, which, without including any state contribution, would cost the towns half of the larger capital project. However, it would not address the much needed expansion for the increased enrollment. Mr. Maher suggested that modular classrooms could be utilized. However, their average life is just fifteen years, and the issue would have to be addressed again then.
John Lafleche, superintendent of Bay Path, has said the comprehensive project will serve the ten communities' need for vocational education for “another 50 years.”
The polls will be open from noon to 8:00 p.m. in Auburn, Charlton, Dudley, North Brookfield, Oxford, Paxton, Rutland, Southbridge, Spencer, and Webster.