Hopkinton school’s $30m facility project faces uphill battle 

  • Hopkinton schools are in need of $30 million in repairs and upgrades, the superintendent says. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

  • Hopkinton High School was ranked as the number one New Hampshire high school by U.S. News & World Report for the third year in a row, April 21, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Saturday, January 20, 2018

A $30 million Hopkinton schools’ facilities project faces a steep climb to acceptance in the town.

To say the situation is difficult is an understatement, said Superintendent Steve Chamberlin. On one hand, the district hasn’t invested in its schools in 20 years since the $7 million renovation of Maple Street Elementary School and Hopkinton Middle High School in 1997.

Chamberlin said the district has been putting off much-needed maintenance to its roofs, electrical and sprinkler systems, accessibility, and safety and security systems. That work alone will cost $22.4 million.

On top of that, a $5.1 million expansion and renovations of the Hopkinton Middle High School science facilities is necessary to avoid being put on probation with the New England Association of Schools and College, the accreditation body for New England’s public and independent schools, Chamberlin said.

That $30 million price tag comes with an tax rate impact of $3.22 per $1,000 of assessed property value in Fiscal Year 2020, according to Hopkinton school district documents. That’s $966 for a home assessed at $300,000.

As of this week, all but one of the town’s budget committee members were against the proposal, and Chamberlin said residents who are wary of the project’s costs have not been shy.

“It’s a significant amount, and there’s understandable concern by residents about such as big hit,” Chamberlin said. “The board believes they’re doing what’s right for the schools and I commend them. But what’s right and what can be afforded isn’t always simultaneous.”

Getting to this point has been a five-year process, Chamberlin said. The board has been waiting for the 20-year bond to go offline. It would be unfair, he said, to ask the taxpayers for two bonded projects at the same time.

Originally, the district had looked at consolidating its elementary schools to save money, Chamberlin said. But then the district saw a spike in enrollment with the addition of full-day kindergarten and now the schools hardly have enough space for students, he said.

Enrollment in the district has increased every year since 2014, from 847 then to 942 this school year. But so has the district’s impact on the tax rate, going from $21.09 in 2014 to $24.16 in 2017.

The budget has risen steadily as well, going from $16.2 million in actual expenditures during the 2013-14 school year to a $19 million operating budget this year. The school board is proposing a $19.6 million operating budget this season.

There’s aid available for some of the work, but it’s a far cry from what the project needs: Chamberlin said the school received $60,000 in a state grant for safety and security, and is waiting to see if they’ll receive another $397,000 in grant money through the state’s Safe Schools State Planning Grant.

Schools across the state have struggled with building projects ever since the Legislature put a moratorium on school building aid in 2009. But with state revenues unexpectedly strong last year, the state Legislative Budget Assistant is anticipating about $19 million will be available for building aid this year – more than twice the $8.5 million originally projected.

Gov. Chris Sununu and state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut were before the state’s House-Senate Fiscal Committee on Friday afternoon, asking that the committee approve $10 million, the first installment of the $19 million fund.

Chamberlin said the board has been keeping a close eye on the state’s discussion about building aid, but recognizes that, ultimately, the taxpayers will make their decision.

“I believe the school board did what it thought was right, that the budget committee will do what it thinks is right, and the community will do what it thinks is right,” Chamberlin said. “We’re really trying to make people understand that there’s no villains here.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)