SPECIAL COVERAGE ON THE CORONAVIRUS
Selectmen Reveal 4-Year Timeline For New Foster School
By: Kristen Arute, Hingham Current Staff; October 21, 2020
Hingham Current file photos / Greg Lane
At the beginning of the Board of Selectmen's joint meeting with the Advisory Committee and the Public Safety Facility Building Committee, Selectman Mary Power laid out a timeline for multiple capital projects the Town will be tackling over the next several years. One of those is the rebuild of Foster Elementary School in Crow Point. Foster was built in 1951, and in 2005 it was identified by the Hingham Public School’s Ten Year Master Plan as "being in need of renovation or replacement."
"While we are in the midst of this pandemic, it is important to recognize that as a community we still do have a number of infrastructure needs," said Power. "Assets like Foster School have reached the end of their useful life."
Last year, Foster School was invited to participate in the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) program which means that the State would help fund part of the project. MSBA funding was used for the construction of Hingham Middle School several years ago. The program offered $32M to the town which the town was required to match making the total rebuild of the middle school around $70M. Taxes were raised by a vote at Town Meeting in 2011 due to the nature of the debt. "Excluded debt" falls outside of the operating budget.
A fact sheet put together by the School Committee in April 2019 points out that "MSBA grants are determined by need and urgency." The School Committee and the Board of Selectmen had applied for grants for Foster in 2017 and 2018 but were denied. Many were enthusiastic over the school's recent acceptance into the program because classrooms in the building regularly leak and reach abnormally high or low temperatures due to a failing heating system. Last winter, the entire school had to be emptied when the heat wouldn't turn on, and students spent the day in the high school auditorium.
"The Board has been getting questions from people about whether it is advisable to move ahead with Foster School, with the Public Safety Facility given the pandemic that we're in and given the uncertainty that's associated with it," said Power. "The reason that we think these projects should go forward at this time is because we still have these infrastructure needs, but also we recognize that it takes a few years for these projects to be completed and the taxpayer impact of them is typically 2-3 years out."
The MSBA has a defined process with defined milestones. One of the requirements of working with the State is that the Town has to follow their process and their timing. "Right now the town is working with the MSBA on feasibility and design for Foster School," said Power. "In this presentation, we kind of like to show you a timetable of how things might unfold."
Selectman Power laid out the following plan for Foster's reconstruction:
July 2022 - MSBA will vote on Hingham's project and a project budget
Fall 2022 - Special Town Meeting Warrant Article for construction funds
Demolition and grounds construction will take 20 months.
Fall 2024 - New Foster School would open.
FY2026 - Biggest tax increase will be felt.
Selectman Power was quick to point out that this timetable could change. "Again, this is all based on what we know right now," she noted. In commenting on the anticipated price to rebuild, Power said, "It's premature to put a price tag on Foster School." For the purposes of the presentation, $100M was used as the combined cost for both Foster and the Public Safety Facility.