EASTHAM — The Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) has confirmed that the Nauset Regional High School renovation is eligible for a third extension of the deadline for qualifying for a $35.6 million state grant — contrary to statements from the regional school committee. School officials said they had been told by the MSBA that there would be no further extensions.
The second and most recent extension gave the district until May 31, 2021 to get voters’ approval of the $131.8-million project.
MSBA Executive Director Jack McCarthy confirmed on Jan. 15 that his agency had never received a request for a third extension of the deadline. McCarthy would not say how likely approval of such a request would be, only that the MSBA would “entertain a request” and that a decision would take about one week.
It was not clear this week who was responsible for the contradictory statements.
Project manager Richard Marks, who is the president of Daedalus Projects in Boston, said he did not tell the building committee that an extension would not be granted, but that “senior staff” at the MSBA had told him about two months ago that “it was time to vote” on the project. He declined to name the MSBA staff member who told him that.
“I told Greg [Levasseur, chair of the school building committee] the MSBA’s position is, it’s time to vote,” said Marks.
Nauset Regional School Committee chair Chris Easley, who also sits on the building committee, said there may have been a miscommunication about the extension question.
School officials had used the supposedly immovable May 31 deadline as an argument for holding a district-wide vote on the project on March 30 rather than putting their plan up for votes at the four towns’ individual town meetings and town elections. Critics called the idea of a district-wide vote “undemocratic.”
In a statement issued on Jan. 15, Levasseur said, “The Nauset Regional High School building project has received two extensions to date on the timeline for voters of the Nauset Region to vote on this project … There is no guarantee of a third. But more importantly, state law allows for a simultaneous district-wide ballot vote on both the project and acceptance of state funding.”
Addressing the charge that a district-wide vote would be unfair, Levasseur said, “In this Covid pandemic era that will continue with us for the foreseeable future, a same day district-wide ballot vote is, without a doubt, the most democratic option. It allows for balloting by mail and will attract the largest number of voters in the region.”
Critics say a district-wide vote would mean losing the opportunity to discuss the project on town meeting floors. A district-wide vote would be held simultaneously in Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet, and would be decided by the cumulative vote.
The school committee voted unanimously on Dec. 10 for a district-wide vote. At that meeting, vice chair Judith Schumacher said, “Greg’s [Levasseur’s] people have again gone to the MSBA and the MSBA has said, this is it, no more extensions. So, we now face what I call a drop-dead deadline. By May 31, 2021 we have to have voter approval for the proposed renovation project or we lose the 36 million dollars in state financing.”
State Rep. Tim Whelan of Brewster brought the conflicting statements to light in a Jan. 14 social media post. Whelan said he contacted the MSBA on Jan. 14 after several Brewster residents asked him why the agency wouldn’t grant a further extension of the project’s deadline.
“With regard to the Nauset Regional School Committee’s recent vote to circumvent Town Meetings,” Whelan wrote, “I spoke to MSBA today, who advised they would be willing to entertain any request for an extension on the existing deadline. The MSBA fully understands the difficulties Covid has placed on municipal operations.”
Brewster resident Adam Lange read Whelan’s post at the Jan. 14 school committee meeting.
“My concern is Brewster,” said Lange. “We pay for a majority of the school, or almost half, and now we can be overruled by towns that have very little skin in the game like Wellfleet and Eastham.”
Easley questioned the timing of Whelan’s post, which he called “disingenuous.”
“It’s the first time in five years that he’s chosen to communicate,” said Easley. “You’d expect a phone call first, rather than a social media post. I have a deep concern that this whole thing was brought up as a hit job rather than as constructive assistance.”
Whelan defended himself in an email to the Independent.
“The truthfulness of the statement I made on my social media was clearly proven by the quotes attributed directly to MSBA Executive Director McCarthy,” he wrote. “If doing my sworn duty to get truthful information from a state agency to then share with constituents is some kind of a ‘hit job,’ then I am left speechless.”