Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Another Select Board Member Weighs in on the SOI Submission

Mark Gold, a member of the Longmeadow Select Board sent the following letter to fellow town residents who have recently asked him to support and approve an updated Statement of Interest to renovate the existing middle schools or build a new school(s) or a combination of both.

Dear Longmeadow Resident,

Thank you for your note asking me, and the rest of the Select Board, to support the School Committee’s middle school Statement of Interest (SOI) to be submitted to the Mass School Building Authority (MSBA).  I believe that there is much about the MSBA’s school project consideration process that was learned from our high school project, and I think it’s important that residents remember what happened with that project.
At the time the high school SOI was submitted, town residents were told, much like we are being told now, that the MSBA received many applications each year, that their waiting list for projects was long, and that it would be several years before the Longmeadow High School project was accepted for action.  It was a short time later that the MSBA notified the school committee that they had accepted the Longmeadow SOI and were ready to move forward with a project.  At the time, the Longmeadow School Committee placed the following statement on their website, a statement at remains posted today:

“…Longmeadow High School was deemed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) as a school in need of immediate attention. The MSBA has committed millions of dollars to Longmeadow to assist in the corrective action determined through the feasibility study process.  However, this money comes with strict guidelines. Once the MSBA has approved the project funding scope (scheduled for March 2010), Longmeadow has only 120 days from that date to pass the debt exclusion at Town Meeting in April and at the polls in June. If the town votes the motion down, we will not have a second chance and the MSBA will move on to one of the 400 other towns in need of assistance.  Longmeadow will be placed in the back of line and have to start the process all over again. At that point, there is no guarantee that we will receive funding from the state.” 

The fact that the town was not ready to move forward would be overwhelmed by those who insisted we must move forward with all deliberate speed least we lose the opportunity for partial state funding.

So, in 2009, even when town residents had not sorted through the project details, the school committee moved forward.  Lost in the memory of many residents it the fact that the MSBA’s analysis of the project was that the Longmeadow high school should be renovated, not replaced.  This conclusion was described in a letter dated November 10, 2009 to Longmeadow School Superintendent E. Jahn Hart that stated, “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.”  On November 16, 2009, just a few days after that letter was received, a hastily gathered delegation of School Committee members, along with State Representative Brian Ashe, visited the MSBA to convince them that a renovation project was inappropriate.   Armed with letters from Congressman Neal, State Senator Candara and others, the rest, as they say, is history.   These letters and minutes of the meeting are now part of the public record.

It was the outcome of that November 16, 2009 meeting between a few “new school” proponents and the MSBA that convinced me that the current argument that the MSBA will help the town find the most appropriate solution to the middle school issue is incorrect at best, and misleading at worst.  The premature submission of an SOI will simply allow those with connections to the MSBA to dictate the direction of the project(s).  The proper methodology, in my opinion, for determining the forward path in this effort is for the town, led by its elected leaders on the School Committee and Select Board, to develop a single proposal for addressing the middle school situation and present that single solution to the MSBA for state assisted funding.
Submitting an SOI without first establishing a consensus on a single forward plan is, in my opinion, putting the cart before the horse.  Additionally, we should not be submitting an SOI in anticipation of not receiving state approval “for several years”.  By doing so, we’re wasting our time and the time of the MSBA.  I am convinced that a properly developed plan, that demonstrates clear and compelling need AND community support, will receive state support and funding in a timely manner.

At the current time I do not believe that a consensus has been reached with respect to any of the following issues:
  1. Whether it is appropriate to repair either or both of the current schools or to replace one or both schools. 
  2. If the decision is to build new, whether or not to combine our two middle schools to a single school or maintain the current two-school structure
  3. Where we would put a single school, on the Glenbrook campus on the Williams Campus
  4. Whether there is sufficient town support to fund the plan that is developed.
Throughout this process, please be assured that I agree that current physical condition of the Longmeadow middle schools merit the attention of our town leaders and residents.  I am familiar with the details of the buildings’ shortcomings as described in architectural studies and reports, but have not participated in discussions on the optimum resolution of those shortcomings.  As Select Board member I will be asked to approve the submission of an SOI to the MSBA.   To my understanding, that document has not yet been written, yet it appears to have the support of a number of residents who also do not know what is contained in that document, what assistance it asks for, or what information it conveys.   My decision to vote in favor of submitting an SOI to the MSBA for financial support to addressing the shortcomings of the Longmeadow middle schools will, to a very large extent, depend on what information that SOI contains, and what actions it seeks.  To ask the MSBA to identify the best way to address the shortcomings of the Longmeadow middle schools is, in my opinion, inappropriate.

Again, my thanks for writing to me on this important topic.  My goal is to meet the expectations of the majority of the residents while providing for the future of our middle school facilities.  I have every reason to believe that we can and will meet both of the objectives of that goal. 

Mark Gold
Longmeadow Select Board

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