Wareham voters to answer $90 million school question on Nov. 6

Oct 22, 2018

Voters in the state’s Nov. 6 election will decide if Wareham should build a $90 million elementary school consolidating Minot Forest and an aging Decas Elementary after an overwhelming “yes” at Town Meeting on Monday.

Tentatively named the Decas School at Minot Forest, the new school would be built at the site of the current Minot Forest School. The 159,000-square-foot building would be designed to educate 1,020 students from kindergarten through Grade 4. The new school would cost a total of $90 million. The state is committed to contributing roughly $50 million while the town would need to spend $40 million.

Monday’s vote arrived three hours after the meeting started due to a lengthy debate on whether or not to allow a marijuana manufacturer to open in the Tremont Nail Factory District. After a brief presentation from school officials, voters approved the borrowing with almost no discussion.

Because the authorization preceded the November vote, resident Lisa Morales asked what would happen if Town Meeting shot down the borrowing, but voters in November approved the ballot question.

The town’s attorney Richard Bowen explained that if that had happened then the town could call a special town meeting and vote again on authorizing the borrowing.

Since Town Meeting approved, a “yes” vote on Nov. 6 would allow the town to borrow the $40 million and increase taxes over the next 20 years by the amount needed to repay the debt. For those who pay property taxes, that would mean an 82-cent increase in annual taxes for each $1,000 of assessed valuation. Someone with a home value of $258,000 – the median figure for a single-family home in Wareham – would see taxes increase $211.56 per year.

The $90 million cost includes furnishings and technology for the school, moving services, architect fees, inspection fees, traffic studies and the removal of hazardous material from the site during demolition. The fields, playgrounds and parking lots at the school will also be resurfaced within the $90 million, which includes an allowance for any unexpected increases in construction costs.

Officials have stressed that under state law, the final $90 million estimate will not increase after the November vote if approved.

To fund the project, residents will be asked to approve a “debt exclusion” to the tax-limiting Proposition 2-1/2. Unlike an “operational override” such as voters failed to approve several years ago, a debt exclusion raises property taxes only for as long as is needed to repay a specific debt and only for as long as is needed to repay the debt. 

The two current elementary schools were built in the 1960s. Both have been plagued by a range of structural issues in recent years. A 2016 study, commissioned by Town Meeting, concluded that both buildings had outlived their usefulness.

Improvements needed to rehabilitate both schools for use well into the 21st century would include extensive electrical, mechanical and plumbing upgrades to meet current building codes – in addition to expensive removal of asbestos hazards and structural changes needed to make the buildings handicap accessible.

Because of the building issues Minot Forest was closed at the end of the last school year. The town’s students in grades three and four now attend classes in a separate wing of the middle school. Pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grade students continue to attend Decas Elementary.