Town meeting is Monday.
I have to admit, I had lots of negative feelings about building a new school. Let me tell you why. I’m old enough to remember last winter, when Dr. Cavanaugh spent months poor-mouthing the tax burden related to keeping a few therapists in our schools, therapists that service our most vulnerable children. My child is one of them. The price tag that parents had to fight for was a little over $100,000. Then, only a few months later, we had to listen to talks about spending close to $200 million on a brand new school. This was a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of us SPED parents.
So, I decided to ask questions. Nobody wants to pay more taxes on a building, especially me.
I thought, “why can’t we just use that vacant building on South Street?” I figured this would save the town a bundle. I figured, “we don’t need a brand new building, we just need a place big enough to house the extra kids”. Turns out, this idea will NOT save us money. We will be cobbling together a building that is not designed as a school, and we will also forfeit tens of millions in MSBA funding. In the end, the difference would only be about $10 million, to repurpose a 20-year old building. The committee of residents looked at dozens of possible locations, and the proposed solution is the best and most economical. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing today.
I don’t feel Elmwood is worth saving. Seriously, have you been in the building lately? I was there for back to school nights and that building is in rough shape. I don’t think it is possible to polish a turd. Besides, the cost to rehome the kids during construction is in the tens of millions. And where will we put them? How will this affect their ability to learn? What will happen to our most vulnerable during this? Will they be included in the school culture? A solution can’t come soon enough for teachers and children who use this building.
I think we can all agree that something needs to be done. We can agree that our community is growing and we must grow our schools to accommodate our children. The cost of doing nothing is actually more, and in the end, we’ll still need to build a new school. In the meantime, we’ll lose educators who don’t want to teach in closets, hallways and stages anymore. Our kids will be negatively affected by being crowded into crumbling infrastructure.
What I am proposing we do is to vote YES to get this on the ballot. A Yes vote doesn’t seal the deal, it merely gets the question on the ballot for the town to vote on November 28.
But between now and the end of November, it is IMPERATIVE to figure out a way to ease the tax burden of this purchase. We need to put pressure on our Select Board to find out what town assets can be liquidated to offset the tax burden on the residents of Hopkinton. There are solutions to this problem – and a No vote doesn’t solve anything – it will just cost us. It will cost us not only in taxes, it will cost us in the education of our kids. It will cost us in declining property values, because I am sure we can all agree that the shining star of our town is our schools.
Please make a point for all voters in your home to attend the meeting on Monday, and please vote YES to put a new school on the ballot. Our town leaders can mitigate the tax burden if they really want, and residents should demand they do so.
Jen Halliday, 4 Hill Street