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Daily Buzz | Community Meeting Yields Wide Range of Input
Finances, neighborhood concerns, and the future of Pine Glen figure heavily
A few very important items didn’t make the Weekly yesterday and are now updated:
Ripcord is in its last week of production at the Burlington Players. They’ve got three shows this week—Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00.
Eversource will be holding office hours from 2-4 on Thursday at True North to discuss the new substation that is planned for the corner of town near MSMS and Mill Pond.
The Diwali celebration, put together by Indian Americans for Burlington, will take place on the Common from 2:00-6:00 this Sunday afternoon.
Range of Opinions Presented on the Elementary School Building Project
Last night, the School Building Committee held a Community Meeting where Donna DiNisco, the architect who has been working with the town on the feasibility study for a new Fox Hill school, presented the work they’ve done so far and the options currently on the table. Following that presentation were more than 90 minutes of public comment. While proponents of a single, small Fox Hill were more heavily represented, a wider range of perspectives was expressed than at most SBC meetings so far. There were 33 commenters, though many reported on conversations they’d had with folks who were not in attendance.
As a very brief summary (read more here), the district has the opportunity to receive reimbursement for a new Fox Hill building, but the town must decide between a single Fox Hill with the capacity for 325 students and a combined Fox Hill-Pine Glen (with one wing for each separate school) for 640 students.
Comments and questions ranged over a number of topics but fell into the following categories you’ll probably find familiar:
In favor of a small, single Fox Hill
Neighborhood impact. Lots of comments that the Fox Hill neighborhood was not designed to sustain the level of traffic and congestion a larger school, potentially with athletic facilities, would entail—especially as the school is located at the corner of two roads in the corner of town in a residential neighborhood, and not on a main road with multiple points of ingress and egress like the rest of our schools. A couple of commenters also mentioned that the larger building, at two or three stories and 150,000 square feet, would stand out and overwhelm the property.
Physical and psychological safety. Several commenters mentioned that they feel a larger school will be overwhelming for young students and those with autism or other sensory concerns. The concern of being able to get out of the school in case of an emergency—and of emergency vehicles accessing the school—was also brought up.
Enrollment. Some commenters wondered whether enrollment projections accounted for immigration or the presence of families in local hotels under the Right to Shelter laws.
Financial Concerns. A larger school will be more of a tax burden than a smaller school. Also, Pine Glen will still need to be maintained, regardless of its purpose after schools are consolidated, and it will eventually need to be renovated and replaced. So that financial obligation might be delayed, but it won’t go away, even if the schools are consolidated.
In favor of a combined Fox Hill-Pine Glen
Economy of Scale. There would be an economy of scale in building and maintaining a single school building. (There would be even more of an economy of scale if the schools were actually integrated and combined under one administration, as one speaker mentioned, but that’s not on the table.)
Uncertainty about Pine Glen plan. Pine Glen doesn’t necessarily need to be rebuilt right now. There was some conversation about whether or not the MSBA (the state authority that runs the reimbursement program) would consider a Pine Glen standalone project, and the answer is that we could apply again, but we can only have one priority project going at a time. So we wouldn’t get state funds until after the Fox Hill project is done, and even then we might not get them. If we did get state funds, we would be restricted to what the MSBA requirements and priorities. But the question remains: What is the plan for Pine Glen, assuming the town ends up building the 325-student Fox Hill? We know the next priority is the high school, and the police station also needs to be rebuilt. That is a lot of tax burden, and while one speaker minimized the impact of the extra $175 (assuming the town built a new Pine Glen on its own, which is not a certainty), that amount of money could make a big difference to many of our residents, disproportionately affecting those with low or fixed incomes. (And that’s not to mention that all the cost estimates are based on 2023 construction costs, which we know from recent experience can rise sharply.)
If we wait for MSBA funding to build a new Pine Glen, the earliest we could start the project would be 2028, and that’s if we don’t get funding for BHS.
If we did get funding for BHS, that timeline shifts closer to 2035.
If we didn’t get MSBA money at all and waited for the Fox Hill project to fall off the bonding schedule, it would be 25 years or more.
Prioritizing one neighborhood. This leads into another concern raised by those who don’t mind the larger school: raising taxes on the entire town to respond to concerns from residents in a single neighborhood.
The reimbursement would be around 25% for whatever project we end up doing. That’s not chump change, but it’s also not as high as the town had hoped. This number is based on a lot of factors and is determined by the MSBA. Reimbursements, once the project begins, would happen monthly, with additional incentives for certain added amenities such as sustainability.
According to MSBA data, the new construction projects they’ve funded since 2019 have been either consolidations (average enrollment of 718) or single schools (average enrollment 614).
A couple of speakers stated their opinion that this isn’t the right project for the town, any way you slice it: one said the town should be focusing on the high school, as that has been the priority for years, and another said neither of the options on the table truly meets the needs of the neighborhood and the community. The possibility of building a slightly larger (four classrooms per grade instead of three) standalone Fox Hill without state money hasn’t been investigated.
It’s worth reiterating that Fox Hill isn’t the only big project coming up for our town. The high school and police station are also undergoing feasibility studies and could very well show up as higher taxes in the near future. You can see the projected residential tax implications in the table below.
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Today in Burlington
Municipal Meetings and Community Events
10:30 AM-12:00 PM - Current Events Discussion Series (Library event; Register)
4:00 PM - DIY Pom-Pom Cactus Craft Activity at the library (Grades preK-3) (Register)
5:00 PM - Housing Partnership meets after a brief hiatus to welcome some new members (including Jack Nagle, who was appointed last week after being passed over for an interim appointment to the Housing Authority), set goals, and give some updates. This advisory committee to the Select Board works to “expand the inventory of decent, safe, affordable housing in Burlington through public and private partnerships.” (Town Hall)
6:00 PM - Free Cornhole Tournament at the Green at 3rd Ave
6:00 PM - Town Meeting/ Town Clerk meet to discuss Warrant Articles #14-16 related to Zoning Bylaws. (Grand View Farm Conference Room)
Sports and Activities
After a day of rain yesterday, we’ve got a full calendar today; most of our teams will be taking on Stoneham.
3:30 PM - Golf at Reading
4:00 PM - Girls swimming at Stoneham
4:00 PM - Boys and girls host Stoneham for a cross country meet at BHS
Girls volleyball in Stoneham; freshman and JV teams at 4:00 and Varsity at 5:30
Boys host Stoneham for a soccer game at 4:15 at MSMS; girls travel to Stoneham and play at 4:15 (JV) and 6:15 (varsity)
Field Hockey from yesterday was rescheduled to today, with varsity playing at 4:15 and JV at 5:30 here at BHS.
Yesterday’s golf match was rescheduled to 9/27.
That’s it for today. I will see you tomorrow—same bat time, same bat channel!