Last week the project to rebuild Winchester High School reached a major milestone. The proposed plan -- developed by local and state officials after more than two years rigorously analyzing all practical options to address the serious deficiencies in the current high school facility -- received the unanimous approval of the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s Board of Directors.
The MSBA is a quasi-independent state authority created in 2004 by the state legislature. With a dedicated revenue stream of one penny of the state’s 6.25% sales tax, the MSBA partners with school districts across Massachusetts to ensure that school building projects are the right-sized, most fiscally responsible, and educationally appropriate solutions. Any school building project that receives funding approval from the MSBA has been through an exhaustive vetting process that typically takes several years.
In 2010, the MSBA recognized the significant, immediate needs at Winchester High School, ranging from aging and inefficient systems to lack of space for growing enrollment. The deficiencies are so great that Winchester became one of only a handful of towns approved by the MSBA to begin work on a second project prior to the completion of an existing project (the Vinson-Owen school).
At its meeting last week, the MSBA Board voted to approve up to $44.5 million in state funding to partially reimburse the Town of Winchester for the cost of rebuilding Winchester High School. Under MSBA regulations, the Town now has 120 days to receive all necessary local approvals showing acceptance of the cost, site, type, scope, and timeline for the project.
This means that $44 million in state funding is now at stake. If Town Meeting does not give its approval for the project or a debt exclusion override vote (expected to be scheduled for December 10 to coincide with the special Congressional election) does not pass, then Winchester will very likely forfeit this money.
The Town would then have to decide whether to start the entire process with the MSBA over from the beginning, requiring years of additional work to once again be in a position to possibly qualify for state funding. In the meantime, millions of dollars of immediate repairs as well as substantial costs to address enrollment growth would have to be borne solely by Winchester taxpayers.
The smart financial decision is to seize this opportunity now to rebuild Winchester High School with financial support from the state.