In just over a month, Belmont residents will be asked to approve a debt exclusion to build a new school building to house grades 7 through 12. Town Treasurer Floyd Carman estimates that this project will cost taxpayers $905 annually for a $500,000 home, and $1,810 for a $1 million home.
Gulp! That is a big ask.
But here’s the rub. The alternatives to dealing with skyrocketing student enrollment and an aging, problematic building would be even more expensive and more disruptive to Belmont residents than the plan being proposed.
The problem, of course, is that student enrollment is at an all-time high, and is expected to keep increasing. Over a hundred students per year have consistently entered the system for the past several years. Twenty years ago, the graduating class was 220 students. Last year’s third grade class was 388 students!
Fortunately, the proposed 7–12 grade configuration will ease these enrollment space issues.
The alternative, unfortunately, would be both more expensive and more cumbersome. To deal with the lack of space to educate Belmont’s youth without building a new 7-12 school, the town would need to install modular classrooms at both the middle and high school levels. Chenery would also need to be enlarged to accommodate a “new normal” of approximately 375 kids in a class across all four grades, and the high school would need both an enlargement and a renovation. Such construction at the Chenery and High School would take over 10 years, at a total cost estimated to be $34M& more than the $213M that is before us on November 6th.
So, yes, $213M is certainly a big ask. We taxpayers have already done so much in the recent past to support our town: a new Senior Center, two new Fire Stations, a new Wellington School, a new Underwood Pool. And now we’re being asked to dig even deeper.
But I urge you to consider the cost of not approving this debt exclusion. We are mandated by the State to provide a safe place to educate our students—all our students. As I see it, we either approve the spending of $213M now, or we pay $247M in a more disruptive, less efficient way, in the years ahead.
So I’m voting Yes for Belmont on Tuesday, November 6; I hope you will too.
Town Meeting member, Precinct 4