Wareham Selectmen review updates for $90 million elementary school

Sep 11

Members of the Wareham School Committee and Massachusetts School Building Authority went before Selectmen on Tuesday, Sept. 11, to provide an update on plans for a proposed $90 million elementary school which would replace an aging Minot Forest and Decas Elementary.

Preliminary floor plans showcased what Mount Vernon Group Architect Dennis Daly called an “innovation hub” with dedicated spaces for both art and technology. The 159,100- square-foot building would be constructed where Minot Forest is currently located, creating space for 1,020 students in kindergarten through the fourth grade. The school would also feature an additional five classrooms to accommodate 80 preschool students. The state’s enrollment calculations for the building assumes that it will open at 85 percent capacity with plans for further growth.

“What we have is a very dynamic school designed for project based learning,” Daly said.

According to Daly, the building would be broken up in such a way that preschool students would have their own entrance and wing separate from older grades.

Minot Forest, which is beset with a wide range of structural issues, was closed back in June as a cost saving measure. Opened in 1965, the building requires significant upgrades for security, electrical wiring and fire safety. Existing ceilings contain asbestos and the current plumbing system does not meet low-flow or handicap accessibility requirements. Minot would also require extensive foundation work in addition to steel shear bracing and seismic clips throughout as necessary to meet current structural code requirements.

Officials estimate that the cost to repair Minot now and Decas five years from now without accounting for overcrowding would be around $74 million. 

“Cost has always been a part of the discussion,” said committee member Geoff Swett. “Rest assured the interest of the taxpayer is well represented.”

Voters approved the borrowing of $1 million to fund a feasibility study for the new school at the April 2017 Town Meeting. The feasibility study explored different options for revamping the school and is a requirement of the state. The MSBA is slated to reimburse the town approximately $59.8 million for the project’s estimated $90.3 million construction cost as a result of this study which means that Wareham would have to pay approximately $39.5 million for the new school.

Officials noted that these numbers are an estimate based off average building cost data and are subject to change pending a review of completed schematic designs later this month.

Following completion of these plans, voters would then be asked to consider approving a debt exclusion at the October 2018 Town Meeting. If approved, voters would then have to decide to fund the school during the state's Nov. 6 election as a ballot question. The debt exclusion would raise taxes on residents to pay for the project for the life of the debt.

Preliminary figures out of the Preferred Schematic Report Submission anticipates that the district share of $39.5 million translates to approximately $0.66 – $0.81 of additional tax burden per $1,000 of valuation. That’s roughly $170 – $210 annually for the average single-family home depending on the length of bond.

Two information sessions on the project will be held in October, and School Committee members strongly encouraged the public to attend. A website for the project has also launched at newschool.warehamps.org with floor plans and answers to frequently asked questions.

“If you’re thinking about voting on your pocket, that’s fine,” said Selectman Patrick Tropeano. “But you have to think about the kids.”