Why aren’t we building one unified elementary school between the two towns?
There are several reasons that the District is not pursuing a single elementary school on the School Street/Southern Avenue corridor.
- The Regional agreement between the two towns says that each town will retain an elementary school.
- In 2013, the District looked at the possibility of a combined school in the Habeeb Report. The acreage needed for that combined school was 30 acres of usable land, which could only be found on land on the Southern Avenue/School Street corridor.
- Cost projections of site (2 identified) acquisition in 2013 were above $6M.
- Site development was estimated to be about the same cost.
- Of those dollars, the acquisition would not be reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and site development would be capped for reimbursement at 8%.
- Bringing utilities to the sites would fall fully on the District.
This option was deemed too costly to the two towns.
- Several years ago, the District conducted a study to determine if the towns wanted a single elementary or two neighborhood schools. The results of that study were that the majority of residents in both towns (more than 600 responses) wanted to retain their neighborhood schools.
- In the spring of 2016, both towns voted overwhelmingly to fund a $650,000 Feasibility Study for the Memorial School project.
- The current school building committee worked with the Owner’s Project Manager and Designer to revisit the one school option, but determined that the same concerns raised in the Habeeb report precluded the District from pursuing that solution:
- The MSBA does not reimburse for site acquisition costs. The cost of any purchase of land would be fully borne by the two towns.
- The MSBA caps site development cost reimbursement at 8%, which, for a new site, would be a considerable expense.
- All utilities would have to be brought to the newly acquired site, which MSBA will not reimburse.
- All elementary school students would have to be transported to the new site—a costly increase to our annual expenses.
- As part of this process, we asked the administration to consider operational cost savings (annual savings, mostly on personnel). Staffing is tied to population, so at best, we would see a savings in a few positions, but not enough to offset the unreimbursable capital debt or the increase in transportation costs.
- Concerns were raised by the two towns that an even more costly solution, at this time, would be an unusual burden on some taxpayers.
Why not build one school in Essex
Some people have asked why we can’t build one combined school in Essex. Again, the acreage isn’t there, nor is the community interest. The data and the lack of support in a combined school during the past two years of the MSBC shows that residents in both towns value their neighborhood schools. Finally, the prospect of transporting 2/3 of the elementary school population (many of whom walk or ride bikes to school now), will cause a significant increase to our already tight annual budget.