A rendering of a possible new middle-high school.
By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — Residents will hit the polls to vote on $186 million in improvements to the town’s public schools on June 20.
Town Meeting convened for its fourth meeting since the beginning of the month Tuesday night to determine that residents will vote on a new $160 million middle-high school and $25 million worth of improvements to two existing schools for reuse as upper and lower elementary schools.
“I’m not going to have children in my household going to a new school unless my household appears on the front page of The National Enquirer,” said Precinct 4 Town Meeting Member Al Dinardo. “But I am a supporter of democracy.”
Today is the final day to register to vote in the June 20 special election. The Town Clerk’s office will remain open until 8 p.m.
The School Building Committee recently approved a total budget investment of $186 million, which includes an investment of $160 million for a proposed grades 6-12 combination middle and high school.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will reimburse the town at a minimum rate of 53 percent — which is expected to increase — of eligible approved project costs.
In addition, a $25 million district-wide master plan would restructure the district to include an upper elementary school for grades 3-5 at the existing Belmonte Middle School and a lower elementary school for Pre-K through grade 2 at the Veterans Memorial Elementary School. The master plan is a town project and is not being pursued through the MSBA. The town’s share of the total project would be an estimated $118 million, bonded over a 30-year period.
Town Manager Scott Crabtree said the town’s recently earned S&P AA+ bond rating, which is the highest rating in the town’s history, will save taxpayers an estimated $7.2 million over the life of the bond.
A fact sheet provided by Crabtree details the cost to residents with average home value assessments. According to The Warren Group, in March, the median home value in Saugus was $374,950.
At $375,000, the cost would be $76 in 2018, $118 in 2019, and would continue gradually increasing until reaching $541 in 2024. The cost would then begin to gradually decline.
Town Meeting members voted 42-2 in favor of both articles after more than an hour-and-a-half of discussion over whether individuals supported or opposed building a new high school.
Members Bill Brown and and Eugene Decareau, who voted against both articles, admitted there is a need for a new school, but argued that the plan in place is not right for the town.
“There is all kinds of construction going on — we’re building hotels, apartments, condos — and we don’t even have a West Side Fire Station,” said Decareau. “That’s public safety. Schools are important. So isn’t life and we’re going to have to address that.”
Brown said he was concerned with traffic and questioned whether the current high school site was the best location for a new school.
Jonathan McTague, a 2014 graduate of Saugus High School, described the need for improvements to his fellow Town Meeting members.
“We would be in class half the time and the teacher would ‘say some of you have to move because the ceiling is leaking,’” he said. “We were learning from books that didn’t include anything about our first black president. We don’t learn sitting in rows anymore being talked at by a teacher — we need those collaborative classroom spaces. Our community needs a chance, our youth needs a chance. Until we speak up, we’re not going to get anything that we need or deserve. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m a Town Meeting member.”
“This is pretty exciting news tonight,” said Crabtree. “Exciting things are happening here. We’ve been talking about a new high school for many years now — probably eight to 10 — even back when I was on the Board of Selectmen.
“My father was in the first graduating class there in 1956,” said Crabtree. “I look at that project and my grandfather and parents paid for that current school that’s there now. It’s been a long time since any of the generations have been able to contribute but it’s past its time. The needs of the community brought us into the current middle-high school model. I think that we’ve identified what the needs are in the community and what plan would address those needs. Ultimately the residents will decide the direction of the town.”
Town Meeting members did not reach a decision on the School Department’s budget or address any other articles before The Item’s deadline Tuesday night.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte