School design advances

State prefers new facility over fix

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / May 25, 2008

Patience and playing by the rules have paid off for Norwood, which has been given the state's blessing to move forward with its long-awaited plan to design a new high school.

"It validated all the work that's really been going on for many, many years," Superintendent Edward P. Quigley said of last week's vote by the state School Building Authority that effectively endorsed Norwood's decision to build a new school rather than renovate its existing school.

The decision moves the district into the final stages of obtaining state reimbursement of as much as 51 percent of the cost, estimated at $80 million to $90 million. Though it could be a while before a shovel hits the ground, the decision was critical for Norwood as the state warns school districts to keep projects at a reasonable cost or risk losing reimbursements.

School Building Authority officials have complained that projects started before regulations were established four years ago have had their costs balloon out of control, putting the burden on local taxpayers. State officials also are calling on districts to consider new buildings only after exploring the options of maintenance and repair.

The authority voted to allow Norwood to commission a schematic design of how the high school would look and what it would cost. The authority will decide later if the design is appropriate and if the state will help pay for its construction.

Quigley said the panel's vote effectively supports a town committee's 18 months worth of work that concluded that a new high school was the best option for Norwood.

The existing high school was built in four phases, from 1925 to 1964, and houses 1,100 students. State officials agreed that repairs would be too costly and difficult to do with students in the building.

"This is the right choice for Norwood," said Katherine Craven, executive director of the authority. "We believe the new-school option is the better, more-efficient option."

Quigley said the decision was the product of a close partnership the district has established with the state authority. Town voters agreed to consider a new high school four years ago, and in 2006 approved a $6 million tax increase to design a new facility. That vote, however, occurred at the same time that the state was developing new rules for reimbursement.

Some districts continued with plans and have been criticized by the state for mismanagement. Quigley said Norwood held off until it could make its way through the state approval process. "We were kind of in a no-man's land, but our goal has always been to put Norwood in the best position for state funding."

The House majority leader, John Rogers of Norwood, said last week's vote demonstrated the partnership the town has had with the authority.

"The town wants to be a partner, watching every dollar being proposed," said Rogers, who attended last week's School Building Authority meeting.

The vote of support came with a strong warning to monitor spending from state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who chairs the state authority. Cahill lamented that some school districts are building excessive schools that taxpayers can't afford.

But Quigley said the town has settled on an appropriate school for its students that follows the School Building Authority's own guidelines. "What we're trying to build is a functional high school that will meet the academic needs of our students into the future."

The Norwood school is one of few the School Building Authority has advanced since developing its new process. A list of hundreds of projects requesting funds was winnowed to 83.

The only new high school that has been approved for reimbursement of late is that of Hingham. Last week, the panel also agreed to reimburse Marshfield $1.1 million for a $2.4 million project to repair a heating system at an elementary school, $326,802 for West Bridgewater's replacement of an elementary school roof, which will cost $657,000.

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