EASTHAM — In an effort not to lose a Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) grant of $35.6 million that’s contingent on voter approval of the proposed $131.8-million renovation of Nauset Regional High School, the Nauset Regional School Committee voted on Dec. 10 to hold a district-wide vote on the project in late winter or early spring 2021 and to rescind a prior vote to bring the project before voters at spring town meetings.
The MSBA grant is set to expire on May 31, 2021. It was initially approved in February 2020, and two extensions were granted. A recent request by the school district for a third extension was denied.
The project was expected to be on town meeting warrants last spring, but those meetings were postponed due to the pandemic.
“We got on this road so that we would have a partner in the expenses for this project,” said committee chair Chris Easley. “So, we have to make sure we continue in keeping those funds available to us.”
The committee agreed to place a $98 million code-only upgrade on the spring town meeting warrants as well, a fallback option if the renovation project is rejected by voters. The code-only upgrade would not qualify for funding assistance from the state.
“My one concern with it is we lose that traditional sales pitch opportunity on the floor of the town meeting,” said committee member Josh Stewart, “where you do have a captive audience of voters, to show them the hard facts of a $96 million renovation versus a $98 million code upgrade, and what we’re getting from the state versus the possibility of having to pay it all out of pocket.” Stewart was referring to the $96 million balance of the $131.8 renovation after subtracting the $35.6 million state grant.
Easley said there would be plans for virtual forums to inform voters about the project, including possible live television programming. “We’re working on the publicity end very hard,” he said.
According to the MSBA website, the high school renovation project would create 214,250 square feet of educational space and would “address a number of deficiencies identified by the District in their Statement of Interest, including deficiencies in all major mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems; and structural issues. In addition to the physical plant issues, the District reported insufficient square footage, overcrowding, and accessibility concerns.”
School reopening was delayed this fall until repairs could be completed to the ventilation system after an inspection found some fans were not providing proper air exchange. The campus reopened on Oct 15.
“If the pandemic has done nothing else, it’s shown that we can’t continue just putting Band-Aids and bubble gum on the school,” said committee vice chair Judy Schumacher. The budget and finance subcommittee, said Schumacher, had concluded that something had to be done this year, given the “dire need” of renovations to address the health and safety of the students.
“That leaves us with only two options: either we do the current renovation project and get substantial reimbursement from the state, or we do a code upgrade option with no reimbursement,” she said.
Eastham Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe said on Monday that the district-wide election would be held simultaneously in all four towns and would be decided by the cumulative vote of the population of the district. A debt exclusion vote would also be held at that time on a separate ballot.