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Hingham fights state effort to reclaim $783K of school aid

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  June 22, 2012 02:05 PM

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Although the reimbursement plan for the new Hingham Middle School has already been signed in ink, conflict has sprung up about the reimbursement for a part of the middle school that is scheduled to be torn down.

According to Hingham officials, a $5.6 million addition, constructed in 1997, was bonded for a 20-year time span. When it was built, the hope was to increase capacity for the school and add a state-of-the-art science wing, media center, and library.

Yet the town will soon be taking a wrecking ball to the building in favor of an entirely new school, which will be built next door at an estimated at $60.9 million.

But with several years remaining on the bond, and with the clock ticking on the use of the building, conflict has arisen over who should pay off the remaining debt.

Under Massachusetts School Building Authority statute, towns that replace buildings that the MSBA had a hand in financing are left to pay off the remaining debt on their own.

The subject was brought up a year ago, when the overall reimbursement package to the town was reduced, or “clawed back,” by $783,000 as part of the project funding agreement for the new middle school.

Hingham officials haven't lost sight of this issue, and recently began a campaign, with the help of state representatives, to see what could be done about the claw back amount.

Town Administrator Ted Alexiades wrote a letter protesting the amount, a subject that state Representative Garrett Bradley brought up with the MSBA and the state treasurer’s office.

Their efforts prompted town officials to host a conference call with MSBA staff last week, and discussions about reducing the size of the claw back are ongoing.

According to Hingham officials, since the town was invited into the model school program, the school building authority should live up to its previous reimbursement promise.

“We’re not keeping this building in place and repurposing it for some other town use. We’re taking it out of service. It didn’t live up to its anticipated or expected lifespan,” said Ray Estes, School Committee vice chairman and School Building Committee chairman.
“The MSBA agreed with us, because they gave us an invitation to replace the whole school. Based on that logic, they shouldn’t be looking to reduce or claw back at all.”

According to Estes, the town hopes to greatly reduce or eliminate the claw back.

Also up for debate is the scheduling for the clawback.

Initially, school authority staff scheduled the reductions to begin in 2013. Yet because the existing school will be in use until 2014, that schedule seems premature to Hingham officials.

Presently, nothing has been changed yet regarding the claw back amount or the scheduling. However, at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hingham Middle School on Friday, MSBA staffers said they were considering changes.

“It’s a unique situation, and we’re going to look at it,” said John McCarthy, executive director for the MSBA.

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