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Schools to get $3.3m upgrade

Other plans under council scrutiny

By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / January 22, 2012
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Public schools will get a $3.3 million technology makeover, including new computers and wireless Internet access, as part of a multimillion-dollar citywide capital improvement plan proposed by Mayor Michael J. McGlynn.

The upgrade, which will put a computer in every classroom, is the first major investment in school-based technology since 2001, said Medford School Superintendent Roy E. Belson.

“We went through a period when money was very, very tight,’’ Belson said. “We were only able to replace technology in small amounts. . . . We’re looking forward to this. This is going to bring us up to speed.’’

The City Council voted, 7 to 0, to approve the $3.3 million bond appropriation.

“It passed unanimously because 350 showed up here,’’ said council president Robert A. Maiocco, recalling parents, teachers, and others who packed the City Council chamber at a recent meeting. “But I think we also all believed the schools deserved it.’’

Other bond requests for the plan, estimated to cost $28 million to $30 million in total, could be a tougher sell. The sweeping plan touches on everything from tree stump removal and sidewalk repairs to building a new parking garage and public works facility. The council will continue its review of the funding requests on Tuesday and Wednesday.

McGlynn dubbed the plan “Chart the Course’’ when he announced it in his inaugural address this month.

“There are no surprises or secrets about what’s in this package,’’ McGlynn said in an interview. “What I’ve presented is affordable for the community.’’

But at least one councilor believes the plan is too costly for Medford. “I feel like we’re really rushing to spend taxpayers’ money,’’ Councilor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said at last week’s council meeting. “If this council votes to expend $28 million . . . I believe we’ll have to pay back between $600,00 to $800,000’’ annually in bond payments. “That means we’re not saving for a rainy day.’’

But Councilor Richard Caraviello said the seven-member board should move swiftly to repair the city’s aged buildings. “The longer we wait, the price will keep going higher,’’ said Caraviello, who was sworn in to his first council term this month.

In an interview, McGlynn defended the scope and cost of the plan. “What the council has asked for, over and over, is for me to stop sending them one project at a time,’’ he said. “They wanted the whole picture. . . . I’ve complied with their request, and now some of them are nervous about the request that’s before them.’’

McGlynn said some projects would pay for themselves. An $8 million parking garage would be paid by parking revenues, he said. An $860,000 bond request to renovate Hormel Stadium, which last week received a $500,000 state grant for a turf field for high school football and other sports, also would be covered by rental income, he said.

“The garage is not going to be paid by the taxpayers. It’s going to be paid by the users,’’ said McGlynn, noting that parking spots downtown now are scarce. “All our analysis shows there is a demand for more parking downtown. . . . At Hormel, once we bond, we’ll pay it with rental income.’’

McGlynn said he “absolutely’’ believes the city can afford the plan. “We have the ability to pay,’’ he said, noting the city’s A1 bond rating. “We’re going to show Wall Street we can work together to get this done.’’

Still, councilors vow to scrutinize costs. The council voted against a $200,000 bond request to fund a study of the main fire station, opting instead to fund it from the city’s free cash account. The council also voted last week to approve a study to determine if the city’s 52-year-old police station should be renovated or replaced. But it voted not to approve a $250,000 bond request for the study, ordering the city instead to choose the lowest public bidder.

“We have to get a proper perspective, so that we invest taxpayer dollars in a responsible way,’’ said Councilor Paul A. Camuso.

Police Chief Leo Sacco called the vote “a great step forward’’ to evaluate an old station plagued by mold and flooding.

Councilors grilled Public Works director John J. Buckley for more than an hour about how he would spend a $500,000 bond to remove tree stumps and repair sidewalks. “We would prioritize sections of the city,’’ Buckley said, estimating that public works crews would do about 70 percent of the work. “Most private contractors don’t want to be hopscotching across the city’’ to work on single requests.

Councilor Michael J. Marks said he could not support the bond request without a list showing in which order sidewalks would be repaired and stumps removed. “If you want my vote, I want to know what’s going to be done,’’ he said.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.

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