Natick voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a new $89 million high school and a $10 million community-senior center, braving heavy rain to participate in an election that also featured hotly-contested races for the Board of Selectmen and School Committee.
“We’re elated,” said Steve Levinsky, chair of the community-senior center’s fundraising campaign. “It’s been 15 years of very hard work by everybody across the community to get here.”
The votes for the building projects capped a two-month run-up with highly-organized campaigning to win “yes” votes that paid off.
According to unofficial returns provided by the town clerk’s office, the high school was approved 7,110 to 1,349, and the community-senior center won by a margin of 5,392 to 2,869.Of Natick's more than 22,000 voters, 8,568 cast their ballots.
Voters also chose School Committee incumbents Anne Zernicke, Anne Blanchard, and Dave Murphy over newcomers Dylan Hayre and Mark Schultz. And in the race for two seats on the Board of Selectmen Charles Hughes and Paul Joseph beat out Chris Carr.
Tuesday’s results showed residents’ willingness to replace two dilapidated buildings: the circa-1954 Natick High School and the circa-1956 elementary school that houses the senior center. Both buildings are plagued by leaking roofs, inefficient heating systems, and facilities that can’t handle the needs of their constituents, officials said.
Supporters rallied around a new high school, organizing teams of canvassers to go street-by-street and house-by-house to make the case. They regularly updated a Twitter feed and Facebook page, and spent every Saturday holding signs on the town common. All seven candidates running for the Board of Selectmen and School Committee voiced support for the project.
But resident Jeff Silverstein had offered public opposition to the high school.
“It’s discouraging to see this kind of attitude when we have an unemployment rate at 10 percent,’’ said Silverstein of supporters’ sentiments a week before the election.
The high school victory didn't come as a surprise to supporters like School Committee member David Margil(cq). "I had a really good feeling even before election day," he said.
The feeling came, in part, because of the phone calls Now! for Natick High, the group campaigning for a new high school, had been making in the days leading up to the election.
But Margil said he was overjoyed about the outcome, as were the hundreds of people who stopped by the Natick's Sons of Italy to wait for results, then celebrate.
"The next several generations of students are going to have a phenomenal facility in which to study and learn. We are going to be able to give students the 21st century education they deserve," said Margil.
Construction of the new high school will add $46 million to the local property tax levy, increasing the bill for median priced homes($392,500) by up to $248 annually while the 20-year construction bond is paid off. The remaining $43 million will come from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Despite its smaller price tag, the community-senior center faced a harder battle. Some in town groused that the center won’t have a pool while others in public forums expressed that the building was a “want” rather than a “need.” Though the building will replace the outdated senior center, the new multi-use space will house the recreation and human services departments and have a gym, “great room,” and meeting spaces available to all residents.
Tax bills will go up $55 a year for median-priced homes, then decrease yearly as the town pays back the 20-year loan to build the center, officials said.
In other races, former selectwoman Erica Ball won a spot on the Natick Housing Authority board. Glen Glater won the open Planning Board seat, Diane Packer was elected Town Clerk, and both Ron Ordway and Jessica Ordway were elected to the Recreation and Parks Commission.
Megan McKee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org