Halifax voters approved a $7.2 million Proposition 2 ½ debt exemption to repair the roof, windows, doors, and siding to the Halifax Elementary School at a Special Town Meeting held Tuesday, March 7. This question will appear on the election ballot Saturday, March 10 and will require a majority vote.
Selectmen Chairman Troy Garron declared it a record turnout, and the vote required a two thirds majority to approve the warrant article.
The article read, “To see if the Town will vote to appropriate, borrow, or transfer from available funds, $7,262,124 to be expended under the direction of the Halifax School Building Committee for repairs and renovations to the Halifax Elementary School.”
Town Administrator Charlie Seelig gave a slide presentation explaining the costs and highlighting the dire conditions at the school, showing failing siding, doors, windows and more. “The roof and siding were put on back in 1993 and some of the doors are older.”
In order to help defray the costs, the Town has applied for a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which, if approved, will pay for $3,456,262 of the cost.
Seelig went on to discuss the MSBA’s work throughout the state, showing work done through the MSBA in 28 school districts and 49 schools in 2016.
The balance of the cost of the repairs will come from a twenty-year bond that will increase taxes by $157.36 for the median value house. However, the surtax will decrease yearly as the bond is paid.
Concerned citizens questioned the cost, and expressed concerns as to how the school has managed their maintenance budget.
Silver Lake Regional School District Superintendent Joy Blackwood told voters that the costs covered in a maintenance budget are for small things like painting, roof leaks, and such. She reiterated that these are major repairs that require capital expenditure. Blackwood further said, “The siding was put on backwards and won’t even hold the paint.” In addition, she said, the repairs needed are beyond any school’s regular maintenance budget.
Other concerns voiced were about what sort of materials would be used and if the roof and siding will hold up for the life of the 20-year bond.
Blackwood explained that although no guarantee could be made about a roof holding past twenty years, and furthered that the Massachusetts School Building Authority has rigorous specifications for materials they fund.
Seelig also emphasized his take on the cost. He says, “The longer we wait to do this, the more it will cost,” citing the expected increase in interest rates over the next few years.
While this warrant article was approved, the school Fire Suppression System was passed over for now.
Initially, this was projected to cost $687,876, but this initial estimate was not accurate. Selectman Thomas Millias told voters selectmen learned the upgrade will actually cost almost a million dollars.
The fire suppression system project budget now is estimated to cost $996,033. The town voted by majority to pass over this repair until more work and thought can be put into it.
In total, there were eight articles voted on by the special town meeting at large. In Halifax, the warrant articles are voted on in a random order, except for Articles 4 and 5. Article 5 is dependent on passage of Article 4, both concerning the Solar array PILOT agreement between Halifax and SunConnect, at 69 Summit St. Both articles passed unanimously.
Article 8 asked the town to vote to accept Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 41, Section 110A. This law says it allows, “Town departments to remain closed on Saturdays or take any action thereon. It passed by unanimous vote.
Article 3 proposed the town amend its current bylaw Chapter 167-7 (C). This law defines what’s considered a business/place of indoor or outdoor recreation and sets guidelines on proper insulation and maintenance regarding noise abatement. Seelig asked that the article be passed over until he can make the language clearer and not impact events like Mud Fest. The town voted unanimously to pass over Article 3.
Article 6 concerns notifying the Silver Lake Regional School Committee on whether or not Halifax will approve the proposed land sale to the Town of Kingston for a police station. Both Selectmen and the Finance Committee recommended passing over this article until the next town meeting. The town voted unanimously to pass over Article 6.
Article 7 asks to the town to vote on appropriating and raising funds for a provision of a collective bargaining agreement for 2017. This potential collective bargaining agreement is between Local Union 3159 (firefighters) and the Town of Halifax. It includes a provision that, “The town pay the difference in pay received by an employee in military service and the amount the employee would receive working for the Town or take any action thereon.” Selectmen asked this article be passed until next town meeting. The town voted unanimously to pass over Article 7.