Friday, June 4, 2010

Now is the time…

for transparency and truthfulness.

This morning I took some time to visit Storrs Library to read the letters dated November 3, November 10 and November 19, 2009 sent by the MSBA/ Katherine Craven’s office to the Longmeadow School Superintendent Jahn Hart. What I read in these letters made me very angry. Angry because our School Building Committee- co-chaired by Christine Swanson (elected School Committee member) and Robert Barkett (elected Select Board Chair) failed to share the contents of these letters publicly. It is interesting to note that Ms. Hart was quoted by
CBS-Springfield as saying, “these documents had been public ever since they were written in November”. However, they appeared only this morning for public review because they were obtained through the efforts of Roger Wojcik and his group using the Freedom of Information Act to gain access.

Below are links to these MSBA documents…

MSBA, Mary Pichetti, Director of Capital Planning to E. Jahn Hart, 11/03/09
MSBA, Mary Pichetti, Director of Capital Planning to E. Jahn Hart, 11/10/09
MSBA, Katherine Craven, Executive Director, MSBA to E. Jahn Hart, 11/19/09

I personally developed and maintained the School Building Committee’s (SBC) website at no cost to the town since the summer of 2009 and it has provided town residents with a wealth of information about the project. There is not much about the high school building project that cannot be found on the SBC website (except these letters).

In these letters the MSBA strongly recommends that the Longmeadow SBC reconsider the renovation option with different project scope options. Below are some excerpts from the letter dated November 10, 2009 from the MSBA to Superintendent Jahn Hart…

“As noted previously, since the MSBA’s senior study, the MSBA and its consultant have believed that the Longmeadow High School has strong potential for renovation, and the conclusions of your feasibility study have not substantially altered that view. The overall condition of the building is solid and the renovation options outlined… rely heavily on very little retention of the existing spaces with widespread removal of masonry walls, thus increasing the cost of the renovations.”… “Please be advised that MSBA is willing to work with Longmeadow to preserve existing spaces in similar circumstances”… “there is no cost estimate for a renovation option that utilizes existing classroom spaces”… “This factor obviously impacts the cost analysis of new construction versus a renovation option” … the decision to about whether to renovate the existing facility is a critical next step”… “further due diligence is required”

These letters are very revealing and should be read by all town residents…

it is very clear that the MSBA in early November wanted Longmeadow to reconsider the renovation option (with different assumptions) with the potential outcome being a much lower cost alternate to the project that will voted on June 8.

As many of you know who follow the
LongmeadowBuzz blog, I have been actively engaged in the school building project and debate having attended most of the public forums including the most recent forum with Katherine Craven. I have also frequently posted articles about property tax information related to the project and more clearly explained “average” property tax increase to town residents including my most recent post entitled School Building Cost and Taxpayer Information (4/16/10).

After the SBC decision on September 30 to select option 2B (new + renovation) until late November, there was a “quiet period” during which there was very little information shared with town residents about the SBC activities. Meeting minutes for the SBC were not posted on the website from June to late November . The committee had also not met their legal obligations to file minutes with the Longmeadow Town Clerk in a timely manner. In late November I requested that the School Building Committee send me the missing meeting minutes to help people understand what was going on. Gradually these meeting minutes appeared.

It is interesting that the 11/05/09 SBC meeting minutes mentioned the MSBA letter + SBC response but did not reveal any details. The 11/19/09 SBC meeting minutes were not received for posting until February 10. These 11/19/09 minutes do share some insight into the role of our local politicians in getting the project approved at the MSBA Board Meeting on 11/18/09.

Back in October I wrote a Buzz article called
“Now is the right time!” (10/04/09) in which I urged support for the new school project because I listened and believed all of the information that was being shared with the public by the Longmeadow SBC. I felt that this was the right decision. Now I feel that I was deceived by the same committee that I was helping.

As the School Committee and Select Board became engaged in a difficult FY2011 budget process, I became very concerned that Longmeadow could not afford the $78 million new + renovated school project and still be able to maintain the other services and employees that makes Longmeadow a great place to live. With other capital improvements as well as rapidly rising operating costs on the horizon, a cost effective solution for the high school was clearly needed. It now looks like the game plan from the start was to build new and not seriously consider renovation of the existing building.

I would like to hear from our elected officials who knew what was going on with the MSBA in November but decided not to share the information with town residents. Take a look at the distribution for these letters to find out who received copies. This is not transparency in government.


I would urge town voters to consider rejecting the High School Project and vote NO!


Kathy Grady said...

These letters take my breath away. You are right. They should be read by every Longmeadow citizen. I am left with so many questions:

How did the SBC get away with not providing the renovation option the MSBA wanted? How did they fail to do the "due diligence" requested? There was $15-20 million dollars at stake.

Why weren't other sites explored? Turner Park or part of Twin Hills were possibilities. There had been talk of using the old high school space for economic development, thereby somewhat offsetting the cost. These letters from the MSBA rightfully point out the limitations caused by the SBC's inexplicable attachment to what used to be the most delapidated wing of the high school.

Were these letters shared with the full committee? Did they all decide that the public did not need to know this critical information?

How did Kathryn Craven talk about the school falling down with a straight face?

I used to be concerned about teachers not having their own classrooms, an auditorium too small to accomodate the music program or to bring in rental income, and the lack of air conditioning in the proposed new school. Now I am concerned that the whole process was flawed.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Moran..

Thank you for your reportage during this matter. Your pieces 'It's Only the Beginning' and 'School Building Costs and Taxpayer Impact' were particuliarly helpful. It's also been very enlightening to witness the evolution of your own stance on this issue over these many months. Well done.

Tom Fisher said...

Comment 2 from me, posted anonymously in error.

Unknown said...

Peter Thomsen said...
I think that this is a desperate appeal to find a reason to distrust everything and everybody.

For my 62 years I have generally looked at motives as a guide. Although the recently constructed scenario, which is missing large portions of transcript, can seem to sound somewhat compelling, what are the motives for gain of the players?

I don't buy it! I think this is a giant conspiracy theory, dreamed up just 3 days before the election.

What is the gain for the central proponents..lower personal taxes for themselves - something they have always worked toward in the name of community.

Kate Tyler said...

Thank you Mr. Moran.Frankly, the whole process of trying to track what was actually going on with this building committee was difficult at best. Obviously from what Kathy Brady a nutshell, there was no central oversight or accountability for the sharing of information. And we (the voters) are left in the 11th hour to wonder how it all happened and WHAT we can do about it now. I'm going to assume that at 8PM on the night before the vote most people who plan on voting "yes" are clueless about these new revelations. The proverbial barn door is closed. I for one was never convinced that there was no way to retrofit/renovate at least part of the school building-but I never saw any article/information that discussed that option in detail as a possibility. Perhaps it could have addressed at least some needs without the stratosphere expense of 78 MILLION DOLLARS!!! Some things in life are just not right and this situation is one of them. I've "been taken" is the polite way of saying how I feel...