Mount Greylock Sending Field Project Bonding Question to Towns
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Thursday decided to begin the process of sending a bond authorization vote to its member towns' annual town meetings this spring in order to finance a track and field project at the middle-high school.
In a vote of 6-1, the committee voted to ask voters in Lanesborough and Williamstown to approve up to $1.8 million in borrowing toward what is currently estimated to be a $4.125 million project.
The $1.8 million figure represents the shortfall in the district's coffers after it applies the bulk of the remaining proceeds from a $5 million capital gift from Williams College and the $100,000 in Community Preservation Act funds that the district hopes to receive at Williamstown's annual town meeting in May.
Borrowing up to $1.8 million would allow the district to break ground on the eight-lane track and multipurpose grass athletic field project in the spring of 2024, account for any escalation in the cost due to inflation and still maintain $1 million in the Williams College endowment to act as a "building renewal" fund to address extraordinary capital costs at the middle-high school during its lifetime, committee member Julia Bowen told her colleagues.
Bowen was part of a working group that spent the last month looking at various ways
to raise money for the track and field project.
She said the committee explored various outside funding sources but found none were a realistic option for the district: state grants seem unlikely, federal grants take a long time to obtain if obtainable at all and "private donations of that scale seem unlikely," Bowen said.
"We talked about a Gofundme, alumni fund-raising campaigns, corporate campaigns, but we believe that won't fund the full amount," she said. "The message we kept hearing was: That is not how people expect public schools to be funded for a project of that scale."
That leaves borrowing or digging into the district's reserve accounts: excess and efficiency, tuition and School Choice.
District officials advise that the member towns have expressed a preference to use those reserves to smooth out potential spikes in the district's operating budget and the assessments sent to each of the towns each spring.
"We fear if we use the reserves now, we will soon be having conversations about making program cuts," Bowen said.
The fund-raising task force also considered either putting the project on hold and allowing the value of the Williams College gift to appreciate over a period of years — a safe bet given the college endowment's historical performance — or scaling back the field and track project to bring it in at a lower cost.
The latter option was discarded because the district's Field and Track Committee has argued the scope is as low as it can get to still serve the middle-high school students. Waiting longer to bring the project to fruition would add to frustration over an endeavor that has been talked about
since before the renovated middle-high school opened for the 2018-19 school year.
In the end, the only option left was borrowing, which would require a successful vote of town meeting in both member towns when they gather this spring — in May in Williamstown and June in Lanesborough.
District Business Manager Joe Bergeron told the committee he consulted with Unibank, the district's bond counsel on the addition/renovation project at Mount Greylock, to find out how much the $1.8 million bond would cost.
"For a field and track type project, Massachusetts law says the maximum term is 15 years," Bergeron said. "When you look at that, you get a projection from [Unibank] as we did for consistent payments over the course of 15 years, it's about $165,000 per year for 15 years.
"Based on the regional agreement and how capital costs are shared, in fiscal year 2023, that would be about $51,000 per year from Lanesborough and $114,000 per year from Williamstown."
School Committee member Jose Constantine said it was premature to decide whether to take such a large ask to the people of Lanesborough and Williamstown.
"I have some concern about the impacts on working class families from borrowing this money," Constantine said. "We have upcoming in a few weeks, in Williamstown, a vote on a new fire station that will be an additional burden on working class families.
"What needs to happen is for us to communicate very precisely what the impact will be on taxpayers if we ask member towns to approve borrowing this money."
Carrie Greene pointed out that the district and Finance Committees in the member towns would do that analysis in the months leading up to the town meeting votes, similar to the tax impact analysis the district did prior to the bond vote to do the Mount Greylock building project.
Greene also said that while the district may get approval in the spring of 2023 to borrow $1.8 million, it may not need to borrow that full amount in the spring of 2024 when the project actually breaks ground.
"It should be pointed out that the more successful fund-raising is, the less borrowing we will do," Greene said. "The more successful the Williams College endowment is over the next year, the less borrowing we will do. The School Committee could decide to hold less than a million dollars for the renewal fund [and put more of the Williams gift toward the track and field project].
"We'll have new numbers on the endowment long before we have to borrow any money. We won't borrow more than we need."
Bowen said an expression of taxpayer support, through a successful vote at the two town meetings, also could help the district's case when it goes to private funding sources.
In the end, six of the School Committee members voted to go along with the plan to pursue bond authorization votes. Constantine cast the lone nay vote.
Tags: MGRSD, playing fields,