Hard Facts About the Numbers
Spend now … or spend more later
The Belmont 7-12 School will cost a total of $295 million. With $80 million from the state and $2 million already spent on feasibility and design, that leaves a balance of $213 million funded through debt – if voters approve the funding on November 6.
It is tempting to think that there must be a cheaper solution, but it would actually cost $247 million to implement a contingency plan.
- Any other approach will require renovations and additions at Belmont High School and Chenery Middle School, in addition to ~32 modular classrooms to support enrollment until these projects are completed – potentially a 10-15 year process.
- This piecemeal approach would cost Belmont taxpayers roughly $34 million more and would not solve the town-wide space problem. We would spend more and get significantly less, plus we would cause much more disruption to our students and our town for more than a decade.
There are no other solutions that solve all of the problems in the Belmont Public Schools. Our schools require renovation, additional space, and reconfigured space.
- Using ~32 modular units addresses only a piece of the problem – classrooms – and it does that poorly.
- It does not address shared spaces like libraries, the new types of spaces required for meeting new educational standards, or the size and flexibility of classrooms.
- And it permanently keeps as many as 800 students in temporary classrooms. Modular classrooms are not an acceptable long-term solution for Belmont, a town that has always made education a priority.
What if we decide to wait?
- If we wait 15 years, with 4% construction escalation, it could cost as much as $531 million to build this school, and we would have to go it alone without state funds.
Building a high school is expensive. But not building this school – now – would be one of the worst financial decisions we could make.
What is the $80 million state funding?
- In August 2018, the state approved an approximately $80 million state grant to help build the Belmont 7-12 School, leaving approximately $213 million to be funded by Belmont taxpayers.
- The grant is tied to the current design, cost and timeline for the new school and cannot be changed.
- If the town rejects the project in the November 6 referendum, Belmont forfeits the $80 million state grant and the money will be given to another town that has public support to fund and build a school. MSBA grants are “use it or lose it” opportunities.
- If that happens, we will be on our own to solve our problems. After wasting 2 1/2 years of their time, the MSBA will not be interested in choosing Belmont again any time soon. If we vote “no” in this referendum, we need to be prepared to “go it alone” without state funds.
Does the MSBA really take away grants?
And this summer, the towns of Ipswich and Tisdale had to withdraw from the MSBA program because they failed to approve funding for their proposed new schools.
Why does a high school cost so much?
- The number of students dominates everything else. The Belmont 7-12 School has a design enrollment of 2,215 students in six grades. But keep in mind that this one project, it eliminates the need for renovations of at least two, maybe three other schools. We design once, ramp up once, and reduce overall cost.
- The Boston construction market is extremely hot, which means contractors can charge high prices for their projects. Construction escalation for school projects has been growing at an astounding 4-6% per year for many years, with no signs of slowing down.
- Belmont’s site is complicated. It is constrained on all sides by Clay Pit Pond, railroad tracks, the football turf, and a road. In addition, it sits on top of an old landfill, which adds additional cost. In our densely settled community, we do not have a vacant piece of land to build on.
- The old BHS building has hazardous materials (e.g. asbestos) — a significant remediation project that must be completed before demolition can begin.
What are we doing to contain costs?
A lot! Everything about this project is designed to keep the cost down.
- First, the state agency that issues school building grants (MSBA) also serves as a financial watchdog. We are subject to the state’s process. Every decision is scrutinized and must be approved by the state. Strict guidelines and requirements are enforced. We cannot move to the next stage of the process until the MSBA board votes to approve it.
- The state requires that we build a school that meets the needs of today’s educational standards, but they also prohibit anything that is unnecessary — no bells and whistles.
In addition to the state requirements, Belmont has also created a project structure that protects the interests of Belmont residents and taxpayers.
- The town appointed a highly skilled building committee with the depth and breadth of skills and experience needed to lead a project of this size. The committee has prioritized fiscal prudence and responsible choices.
- We hired an Owners Project Manager (OPM) who serve as our full-time experts to manage the architect and contractor and look out for Belmont’s financial interests. Daedalus Projects is among the best in the field.
- We chose to use the state-approved Construction Manager (CM) process. We have more control over the quality of our construction team. Skanska, our CM, joined the project in early 2018. By getting involved before the design is complete, they help make decisions that accelerate the schedule, reduce change orders, and improve quality control — and they have already saved the town many millions of dollars.
How does the cost compare to other towns?
Belmont is not alone. Other towns with projects similar to Belmont’s in terms of timeline and complexity are coming in with the same ballpark cost, if not more.
- Arlington recently completed their feasibility study and chose a design with an estimated price tag of $308 million.
- Waltham began the feasibility study process in 2016 and produced estimates for two sites that ranged from $283 million to $300 million. Neither of these town-owned sites were feasible, and in June 2018 the town council voted to use eminent domain to buy property for a new school. The land will cost $18 million, and with 4% escalation of construction costs, the new school could cost as much as $324 million, plus land.
- Yet both of these projects will serve fewer children than Belmont’s. Arlington’s new/renovated school will serve 1,755 students at a cost of $175K per student. Waltham’s new school will serve 1,830 students at a cost of $187K per student. Belmont’s new/renovated school will serve 2,215 students at a cost of $133K per student. Belmont will see a much higher value per student than either of our neighboring towns.
What will this cost taxpayers?
Town Treasurer Floyd Carman gave estimates of the annual cost of the new high school to tax payers at $181 per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value. That works out to $905 for 500K house and $1810 for $1 million house. The cost of no is uncertain, but will be significantly higher.
The longer we wait, the higher the costs and interest rates will be. The bond agencies are watching this project to see if Belmont is willing to invest in much-needed infrastructure improvements. What will they think if we turn down state money to do what we clearly need to do?
Host Joanna Tzouvelis speaks with Yes For Belmont campaign members Ellen Schreiber and Jessie Bennett. They discuss the problems with the old Belmont High School; the economics of the debt exclusion; and the benefits of the proposed 7-12 school.
A two-minute explainer that shows why YES on Question 4 ensures a better future for Belmont’s students, taxpayers, and community.
The new Belmont 7-12 School is the most effective and least expensive solution to fix the space problem at all six Belmont schools for the least cost, maintain the value of Belmont homes, and affirm Belmont as a town that values education.