Monday, June 7, 2010

Different Perspective

A Generational Decision

As one of the oldest incorporated towns in the Commonwealth, Longmeadow has maintained and embraced its long history and bucolic surroundings. The true New England charm of our town serves a backdrop to delivering outstanding services to the residents. Our Public Safety, Senior Services, Parks & Recreation Departments, and Library touch all residents. Our school system’s reputation of excellence is one of the key components in making Longmeadow a community of choice among new residents. Longmeadow is a great place to live and raise a family.

As we embark into the second decade of the 21st century, Longmeadow, like other communities, is challenged with difficult decisions. The challenging conditions seen in our global economy can be felt in our own backyards. Similar to other suburban communities, this year we are again asked to find balance in the delivery of services we have grown to expect and the cost of providing them.

Like other New England communities, our infrastructure is aging. Though we have made great progress in recent years with the addition of a Fire Department Complex, three elementary school renovations, general site work, and other modest building upgrades, there are still key projects like the Town’s water and sewer lines, the DPW facility and a long term, sustainable solution to the condition of our largest asset, the Longmeadow High School that need our attention.

Through out the decades and centuries of Longmeadow’s existence, local government and residents have been presented with similar issues as we face today. Our tax base is limited by its residential nature therefore large capital based projects and infrastructure investments must be fully vetted and deemed the right use and investment of tax payer dollars. Nearly a century ago when the high school, two middle schools and five elementary schools were built; the investment in our town rests on our shoulders. We need to embrace any opportunity that allows us to rebuild our worn out infrastructure.

One of these opportunities is upon us. The design of a new/renovated Longmeadow High School submitted to the MSBA for funding approval includes a new academic building combined with a renovation of the 1971 wing. Our state’s school building authority, the MSBA, announced on March 31st, that it had approved a maximum grant reimbursement of $34,004,658 towards the cost of our high school addition/renovation project.

On May 25th, Special Town Meeting took the first step to fund the high school project by approving the warrant article. The next step will be the ballot question on June 8th. It is a simple majority vote—if residents vote yes then we move forward with the project and funding from the state; if residents vote no, then the high school project fails and funding from the state will no longer be available.

For nearly thirteen years, we have been working toward the possibility presented today, where a viable option finally exists to fix our High School and can be presented to you, our residents for approval.

Over the last 22 months, the Longmeadow School Building Committee (SBC) has worked to position our project within the guidelines of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), knowing full well that we had one shot to take advantage of the current reimbursement program. The alternative: compete with hundreds of communities and nearly 500 other statements of interest filed with the MSBA. Since the 2008 Fall Town Meeting High School Feasibility Study funding approval, the SBC has been working towards a solution to the high school’s aging facilities. Working in collaboration with the MSBA, the owner’s project manager Joslin Lesser & Associates, and OMR Architects, Longmeadow completed its required Feasibility Study and Schematic Design in March 2010.

As stated earlier, Longmeadow is now asked to balance among several challenges. In the short-term a potential for reduction and restructuring of town and school services may have a noticeable impact. In the long-term we are asked to consider a sizeable capital investment. This intersection of seemingly opposing dynamics is unusual, and may be faced only once in a generation. Though this is not the first time Longmeadow contemplates its future, we believe this decision may define the complexion of our community for decades to come.

Surrounding communities have recently supported investing in new high school projects while facing the same economic constraints. We hope that as a community, we seek to understand each and all of the dimensions that this decision will have, encompassing both current residents and future generations. Though it is difficult to separate today’s seemingly uphill battle from the hope and promise of a better tomorrow, we believe Longmeadow will ultimately make the right decision.

In conclusion, we would like to thank all of you – the citizens of Longmeadow. Your participation, comments, questions, and concerns bring great value to both of us and our fellow School Building Committee members.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert E. Barkett
Co-Chair Person SBC

Peter Greenberg
SBC Member and Finance Committee Liaison

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