Letter: Context for Town Meeting Article 16 – Neary School Feasibility Study

by beth on May 3, 2022

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

I am writing to provide some relevant background and facts on Article 16 in this year’s Warrant for the 2022 Annual Town Meeting (ATM) I am hoping that this information will help those who expect to attend ATM in making their decision whether to support this Article or not.

I am writing as a resident and voter and not as a member of the Advisory Committee.

I was a member of an ad hoc committee appointed by the Select Board named the Capital Planning Committee – School Research Subcommittee (SRS) – until recently when the committee finished its work. The information that I am providing in this letter comes from the work done by the SRS and some later follow up I did on my own. All meetings of the SRS were held via Zoom and are available to be watched on You Tube.

Article 16 is asking ATM to approve the expenditure of up to $950,000 to fund a feasibility study for the Margaret A. Neary School (Neary). The SRS concluded that the projected student population for the next ten years would support consolidation of the Pre K-8 students into three schools from the current four schools. The SRS also recommended that if a school were to be closed the best choice would be the Albert Woodward School (Woodward). The recommendation to close Woodward was made in large part due to the flexibility of the Neary campus which does not exist on the Woodward campus.

Simultaneously with the work being done by the SRS, the K-8 district administration submitted a Statement of Interest (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to participate in their Core Program which partners with school districts to build/significantly rehab public schools in Massachusetts. The MSBA provides significant funding and guidance in the process. The last three Southborough schools built (Trottier, Woodward and Finn) were all built within the MSBA program.

The Statement of Interest (SOI) submitted for Neary was accepted by the MSBA in March 2022 and the Southborough K-8 district was invited into the MSBA Eligibility Period. Districts invited into the Eligibility Period work collaboratively to determine potential solutions to the issues identified in the SOI. The MSBA and the district work to find solutions that are educationally-sound, fiscally appropriate, and that fit within the MSBA capital funding pipeline.

The MSBA timeline for beginning their work with Southborough is August 2022. There are certain requirements that districts must meet in order for the work to commence. One of those requirements is for the district to receive upfront approval from Town Meeting to fund a feasibility study to evaluate all potential solutions to the problems identified in the SOI. Therefore Article 16 is being brought to ATM now to provide the funds for the required study so that the district can begin working with the MSBA in August. There has been no decision made as to what the best solution to the issues identified in the SOI is. That is the purpose of the feasibility study. Neary is fifty years old and is need of a significant investment if it is to remain a viable school for the future. Town Meeting will be presented with the results of the feasibility study and make the decision as to the extent of the project to be undertaken. Approving Article 16 does not lock in any decision as to the ultimate project (if any).

I have reviewed the cost of fifteen recent feasibility studies for school projects in Massachusetts. The cost of the fifteen projects was adjusted for the increase in costs since those projects were approved. The mean adjusted feasibility cost of the fifteen projects was $959,431 and the median cost was $908,973. The cost for the proposed feasibility study entails hiring two sets of professionals – a design firm and an Owner’s Project Manager (OPM). I reviewed the cost of recent school studies because at first blush the $950,000 being requested seemed high.

I am hoping that the foregoing will be helpful to those who will vote on Article 16. There will be more information provided at Town Meeting and of course voters will be able to ask questions of the Article sponsor.

Kathy Cook

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carl Guyer May 3, 2022 at 11:55 AM

Before launching this study there should be a threshold established which can be used to determine if the proposed goal is feasible or not feasible.

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2 Angie May 3, 2022 at 12:53 PM

$950,000 to have a study to decide if you need space or not?
What about the millions to build a school you had the town taxpayers pay and the monies you paid for that study that was wrong about how large you need that school.
Use your head folks. The advisory can’t come up with advice on their own.
$950,000 is a lot of money.
STOP SPENDING MONEY!!!

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3 Too Many Cooks on Article 16 - Vote NO May 3, 2022 at 2:21 PM

Ms. Cook, you expressly do not have my support on Article 16 for the following reasons. There is a serious credibility issue on other matters over which you preside and have opined with a complete void in accountability and common sense.

You advise town meeting floor on current other matters for which there are egregious missing managerial oversights and accountability of taxpayer monies. You and others have provided no good explanations and appear to not be demanding bottom line accountability. On the St. Marks controversy, you attribute that debacle to mistakes with a shrug of the shoulders. You have ZERO idea of total costs to the taxpayers, yet are endorsing to voters that granting easements after the fact is perfectly ok. These positions lack legal sense, monetary sense, and common sense.

As a result, there is a credibility and trust issue on all recent capital spending matters, consolidations of power, and yet another major spending initiative, another expensive study for another initiative that may not be such a great idea—but will be presumed such with this made as instructed study.

Voters, vote NO on this and other questionable articles, until those at the top start answering questions. Sick and tired of the presumptuous advice and blind pushes for spending, with very poor managerial oversight. Vote NO, until there is better oversight and management. In the meantime Ms. Cook, you would do well to do complete public records request and read about the matters you are offering advice on to voters. There is an urgency for accountability, not excuses.

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4 Patrica Burns Fiore May 3, 2022 at 5:10 PM

Kathy,
Could you remind me of the cost for the school study that was recently ordered by and given to the Select Board? Also, will there be any duplication of efforts or information? TY!

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5 SB Resident May 5, 2022 at 11:37 AM

Holy …, a million bucks for a feasibility study? I’m assuming feasibility study is really the wrong term here.

Before we vote for a million bucks to do a study, the town should vote and be sure that converting Woodward and redoing Neary is the path the majority want to take. The people I’ve talked to love Woodward and would hate see it go. Although no one disagrees that Neary is ripe for some love. Either way I’m not at all convinced that this is what anyone in town wants in spite of the SRS’s recommendation.

It sounds like this “study” is a requirement of the MSBA. It begs the question how much money did we get from the MSBA in the previous projects? Is the cost of going through the MSBA greater than the benefit gained?

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6 beth May 5, 2022 at 11:47 AM

I will be covering all of that in a post later today. But to give a quick answer – it is more than simply a Feasibility Study and it shouldn’t cost taxpayers close to the full amount that they were required to include in the Warrant. (But it won’t be cheap either.)

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7 roxanneperro2@gmail.com May 5, 2022 at 1:38 PM

Absolutely no for $1 million for a study. There is NO guarantee that a 38% reimbursement
will be given to Sobo. NO GUARANTEE, as stated at TM last night. Don’t get suckered into another $$$$$$$ scam. Postpone this article, as the money just isn’t there, and it is a hardship for many at this juncture after the last few years, inflation, cost of basic living.

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8 beth May 5, 2022 at 4:31 PM

If you wanted to postpone the Article, you should have attended last night. It already passed. You can read about that here.

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