SPECIAL COVERAGE ON THE CORONAVIRUS
Foster School Takes Back Seat To Public Safety Facility
By Kristen Arute, Hingham Current Staff; October 24, 2020
Hingham Current file photo / Kristen Arute
In spite of being identified in 2005 as being a building "in need of renovation or replacement" and recently being referred to as a "top priority" by the Selectmen, the William L. Foster Elementary School appears to once again be taking a back seat to another project. This time it is the proposed Public Safety Facility at the Shipyard.
The school, which was built less than 70 years ago and renovated 30 years ago, finds itself in desperate straits. Selectman Mary Power has pointed out that "assets like Foster School have reached the end of their useful life." Given that Hingham is a town known for taking great pride in owning and maintaining its historical structures, many find this to be ironic.
Last year, Foster School was invited to participate in the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) program which was great news to some because it means that the State could potentially help fund part of the project of reconstructing the school. However, there would be strings attached. Not only would the Town be beholden to MSBA's timeline, but the project would also be defined by MSBA's specs. Power recently said, "It's premature to put a price tag on Foster School," in part because MSBA would have control over the scope of the project. However, MSBA is not expected to vote on those details for at least another two years.
The condition of Foster School has only gotten worse with time, and the financial future of the MSBA grant program and their ability to commit to funding, given a decrease in tax revenues as a result of the pandemic, remains to be seen. With so much urgency and so much uncertainty, why wouldn't the Town go it alone? In Selectman Power's financial presentation on Tuesday she spoke at great length about the Town's borrowing power. From a fiscal standpoint, the Town is more than able to "chew gum and walk at the same time." Both projects could be undertaken simultaneously.
Parents have raised concerns in meetings and on social media about the perceived conflict between the Public Safety Facility project and Foster School, but those concerns have been dismissed by both the Selectmen and the Advisory Committee. Former School Committee candidate Joshua Ross took to social media to assure parents that purchasing the land for the Public Safety Facility is not at odds with Foster. "As I said last night, I won’t be voting for any money for design or construction of the new safety building until Foster construction money is voted on at town meeting, which won’t be for a few years," said Ross. "It’s good for the town to own the land though." However, the Selectmen have said they will request design and construction funding for the Public Safety Building at Town Meeting next spring, long before any vote on Foster School.
Foster School is not held hostage. The School Committee has every right to withdraw the Town from the MSBA program and move forward in the same way the Selectmen have chosen to tackle the Public Safety Facility. This would expedite the project and ultimately save taxpayers a substantial amount of money. As one parent pointed out, if this had been done five years ago, the Town would have a new school, and taxpayers would have saved money on both the cost of the project and on interest. However, at this juncture it is unlikely that the School Committee will choose this course of action.
The Advisory Committee will be voting on Monday night to approve the Board of Selectmen's proposal to bring the purchase of the property for the purpose of constructing a Public Safety Facility at the Shipyard before an outdoor Special Town Meeting at the end of November. The Selectmen are expected to vote on Tuesday night to close the Warrant at which point it will go to the printer. Outstanding questions about traffic, response times and cost for the proposed location will be addressed at another time.
School Committee members:
Kerry Ni, Chair 2018-2021, email@example.com
Carlos A. F. Da Silva, Vice Chair 2019-2022, firstname.lastname@example.org
Libby Lewiecki, Secretary 2018-2021, email@example.com
Liza O’Reilly, Member 2019-2022, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy “Nes” Correnti, Member 2019-2022, email@example.com
Michelle Ayer, Member 2020-2023, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jen Benham, Member 2020-2023, email@example.com