The future of Nauset Regional High School’s long-planned renovation will be decided at a Jan. 10 special election that will ask voters of the four towns in the Nauset district to fund a $38.1-million cost overage.
School building committee members have not seen much opposition to this new ask, which they say is the result of inflation, other pandemic-related economic twists, and the fact that the original estimate is three years old. But they do fear that residents of Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, and Brewster will overlook this unusual January election.
“It is just a matter of getting people to the polls,” said Chris Easley, a member of the Nauset High School Building Committee and chair of the regional school committee.
The building committee has met with each town’s select board and held two regional forums explaining why another $38.1 million is needed on top of the original $131 million that was budgeted for the project. A final virtual forum will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 4 at 6 p.m. There will be a link to that meeting at nausetbuildingproject.com and on each of the four towns’ websites.
Built in the 1970s, Nauset High has been in poor condition for years, and in 2014 school authorities began to look at either renovation or reconstruction. In 2017, the four towns paid for a $1.3-million feasibility study, which determined that the most efficient plan would be to do some of each, depending on the condition of each building on the Eastham campus.
The Mass. School Building Authority approved $36 million in state funding for the renovation and reconstruction, and the school building committee prepared to ask voters in the district towns for funding in 2020. But the pandemic led the committee to delay those votes for a year, Easley said.
In March 2021, voters said yes overwhelmingly. Even in Brewster, where opposition had been strongest, 60 percent of the voters approved moving forward on the high school overhaul. In Eastham, Orleans, and Wellfleet voter approval was at 79 percent, 74 percent, and 88 percent, respectively.
That one-year pandemic-related delay contributed to the disconnect between the cost estimate, done in 2019, and the actual bids that were advertised in the spring and came back in October 2022, Easley said. The lowest bidder, Brait Builders, was $29.1 million over the original estimate. With other costs besides construction also anticipated to rise, the building committee decided to ask for $38.1 million.
What will that cost each taxpayer? Originally, based on a 25-year loan at a 2.46-percent interest rate, the bond would have cost Brewster homeowners $76.59 per $100,000 assessed value or $382.95 in the first year for a property assessed at $500,000.
The new Brewster estimate, based on a 25-year loan with a 4.5-percent interest rate, is $87.35 or $436.75, according to the school building committee’s presentation before the Eastham Select Board on Dec. 19.
Eastham’s costs would go from $42.66 to $51.70 per $100,000; Orleans’s would go from $30.99 to $40.36; and Wellfleet’s would rise from $35.51 to $40.10.
“There is no less expensive solution — not now and not in the future, not a smaller school or a different school that we build four or five years down the road,” said Judith Schumacher, the regional school committee’s vice chair.
“If we vote against it, in essence the current project is dead,” Easley added.
The district could lose state funding as well as the bidder on the project. It would take about five years to regroup, redesign, and be ready for a new vote on the project. About $21 million has already been spent or encumbered, Easley said.
“No one is happy we find ourselves in this situation,” Easley added. “But going forward is the right thing to do. It is a solution that will cost less and be completed in the quickest amount of time. For all these reasons we ask for the additional funding.”
Voting by mail is possible, but voters must take care to mark two separate ballots. The yellow ballot goes to the school district to authorize payment for the project. The orange ballot authorizes each town to spend the money. Voters must fill out and sign both ballots and put each one into the correspondingly colored return envelopes, according to the Eastham town clerk. The colors are the same in all four towns.
In-person voting on Jan. 10 is from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Wellfleet Adult Community Center (formerly the Senior Center), Eastham Town Hall, Orleans Council on Aging, and Fellowship Hall at the Brewster Baptist Church. Mail-in ballots must be received by the close of the polling places that day.