Thursday, March 22, 2012

Voices of Franklin: Town Council - Yes

As elected and appointed officials charged with developing prudent fiscal policies and strategic planning decisions for the town of Franklin, the Town Council, School Committee and Finance Committee unanimously support the March 27th Debt Exclusion ballot question for a new Franklin High School (FHS).

While the Town continually reviews its capital needs, a 2005 report from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) caused us to prioritize the high school facility. At that time, FHS was placed on warning status for 19 facility-related issues. Franklin spent the next three years identifying and addressing those issues that could be fixed outside of a major renovation.

In 2008, NEASC continued FHS’s warning status and asked Franklin to “resolve all facility issues.” As documented in an independent architectural study, the structural issues of FHS are indisputable and can only be addressed with a comprehensive renovation or new building and include:

  • lack of accessibility for handicapped and/or injured (e.g., sprained ankles) students
  • lack of facility-wide emergency sprinkler system
  • poor condition of field house structure and roof
  • classrooms below the minimum square feet required by MSBA
  • poorly equipped and outdated science labs and classrooms
  • poor ventilation and lighting
  • inadequate parking and access to the building
  • inadequate oversight of the entry due to the current location of administration offices

We highlight these points to demonstrate that the issues facing Franklin are not a matter of aesthetics, or maintenance, or easily addressed with simple wiring and new ceiling tiles. In fact, the State added over $1.5 million dollars to Franklin’s original reimbursement level after it positively assessed the historical maintenance of our town and school facilities.

A joint committee was formed to determine the most cost-effective way to address the problem. After four years of extensive study and detailed oversight from the State, the recommendation before the voters on March 27th is to build a new school under the State’s Model School Program.

A variety of diligent and independent analyses assure us and State officials that the particular masonry framework of FHS (versus an adaptable steel frame), 19 roof levels and the sprawling H-wing design of the high school makes the renovations necessary for compliance about as expensive to taxpayers as a new school, with a significantly increased chance of cost overruns, extensive disruption to students and a shortened return on investment.

The invitation-only Model School Program has many benefits that make it the most judicious cost-efficient use of taxpayer’s dollars, including:

  • increased reimbursement from the state
  • shorter construction time versus a newly designed school
  • previous duplication in other towns limits change orders and unknown costs
  • maximizes student safety and minimizes disruption to educational environment

Specifically, the new FHS proposal would result in:

  • State reimbursement rate of 59.52 percent of eligible costs
  • fully furnished and equipped high school, including athletic fields
  • 6 additional classrooms, with all classrooms meeting minimum size guidelines
  • 21st century classrooms and science labs with integrated technology
  • an 830-seat auditorium/theater
  • a 17,700-square-foot gym and 6,000-square-feet-indoor walking track
  • full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act for access and special education
  • remove Franklin High from accreditation warning status

The Model School proposal resolves undeniable facility issues that we must address. It also limits the opportunity for unknown costs and limits the cost for taxpayers to about 40 cents per every dollar spent, whereas an unapproved renovation is ineligible for the state reimbursement and would be borne 100 percent by the taxpayer. Furthermore, the new design maximizes the educational opportunities available to our students, preparing them for our current professional world, with an emphasis on group learning and technology. There are many ancillary benefits as well, including protection of property values and enhanced community pride.

Franklin has a proud tradition of investing in its town for the betterment of all our citizens. We urge you to continue this support for your community and vote yes on March 27th for a new Franklin High School.

The text of this letter was published in the meeting agenda for the 3/21/12 Town Council meeting

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