Selectmen Support Applying For State Grant Program To Get Reimbursement On Future School Building Projects

WILMINGTON, MA — Town Manager Jeff Hull and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Glenn Brand have asked the Board of Selectmen and School Committee to consider authorizing Wilmington to apply to a grant program from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which would help offset costs associated with future school building projects.

This is the same grant program that reimbursed the town 55.19% of eligible costs towards the construction of the new Wilmington High School, resulting in a $37.9 million savings to Wilmington taxpayers.

The Selectmen offered its unanimous approval to begin the MSBA grant application process — in the form of a statement of interest — at its meeting last Monday night. The School Committee will take the matter up at its meeting this Wednesday night.

Wilmington will prepare and submit statements of interest for EACH of its SIX elementary school buildings this spring while identifying the Wildwood School as the top priority.

The town is taking this strategic approach of writing statements for each of the six schools — per the advice of industry experts — because it provides maximum flexibility during the application process.

In a memo to Selectmen, Hull explained that submitting multiple applications “will help in demonstrating our collective needs to the MSBA” and “not limit the town to only targeting the Wildwood School should the Town be invited into the process, but rather open the possibility of building consolidation and future grade reconfigurations.”

“If we were only to submit one application for the Wildwood, that would effectively eliminate the possibility of building consolidation,” warned Hull. “The project eligible for MSBA reimbursement would be confined to replacement or rehabilitation of the Wildwood School for educating kindergarten students.”

“The MSBA application process is set up in such a way that a community does not need to have established a specific plan at the time that an application is submitted,” stressed Hull. “It appears the MSBA welcomes the opportunity to partner with communities to explore viable options together. In Wilmington’s case, this could mean establishing a comprehensive approach to dealing with all of our elementary schools. This would be through a feasibility study that, ultimately, the MSBA would reimburse at the same percentage as that of a future building project.”

Hull set expectations by noting that, last year, the MSBA received 111 applications and only approved 13 projects as part of this grant program.

Selectmen React

“I just want to be really clear. If the Board votes to pursue dong this, we’re not prioritizing any project over any other project. This is simply an opportunity to get a bite at the apple for future reimbursement, similar to new high school back in 2011,” said Selectmen Chair Greg Bendel. “If there was such thing as a senior center building authority, we’d be applying to that for reimbursement as well, or a town hall reimbursement program, or a fire station reimbursement program. Unfortunately, those don’t exist. We’d be foolish not to apply [to this MSBA grant program] and try to get some reimbursement for down the line. This process could take 5-7 years.”

Hull concurred with Bendel’s timeline.

“Best case scenario here, if the town was to file these statements of interest in April and obtain approval on the first round — which is a big IF — it would still take in the neighborhood of 5-7 years to get a school,” agreed Hull. “In the meantime, I think there will be work done in pursuit of other facilities.”

“This really is just to afford us the opportunity to explore consolidation. We’re not looking for six new schools,” stressed Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony. “We might have the opportunity consolidate, free up some resources, and do other things down the road.”

Hull agreed with O’Mahony’s assessment.

“MSBA is actually supportive of the idea of working with towns and school districts to help them develop a more broad-based plan, rather than focus on one school now and another school in five years,” said Hull. “As part of the feasibility study that would be done if we’re allowed into this program, we would address whether consolidation of schools is advisable.”

“The MSBA offers significant cost reimbursement for the building of new schools. It’s a program that is unique to schools,” added Selectman Jonathan Eaton. “This [statement of interest] is a hoop we have to jump through so that 100% of the cost doesn’t fall to the residents down the line…. We’re trying to reserve a spot…”

“Down the line, whether it’s 5 years or 7 years from now, ultimately the residents of town at Town Meeting will decide whether to pursue any project,” agreed Selectman Bendel. “This gives us the opportunity to have that day come in the near future with some possible reimbursement, like we did with the High School.”

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