There’s no doubt that Westport’s middle school building is unusable in its current condition for educational purposes.
The presence of the carcinogen PCB has resulted in the building’s closure and the merger of the middle and high schools into one building. It has also put the onus on residents to decide what’s next for the town’s school system.
After years of planning, site reviews and meetings, the Westport School Building Committee has put together a proposal that will result in an education campus in town with a new junior/senior high school as the centerpiece.
It’s a proposal that voters should approve.
Yes, building a new school is expensive, with owners of the average home in Westport — listed as $400,000 — facing an approximately $400 increase in their taxes annually. But if the proposal is approved, Westport will receive a deal hard to ignore in the form of reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
According to figures presented by the SBC, Westport will receive a $39 million reimbursement on the estimated $97.5 million cost of the school. That amount is almost 50 percent of the cost among items the MSBA considers reimbursable. (Some items, such as added space in the auditorium and gymnasium, are not reimbursable.) The proposal also includes the state picking up half the tab for demolition of the middle school. For those of you doing holiday shopping this time of year, how many are passing on half-off deals?
On the flip side, if the school proposal is rejected by voters, it won’t stop the need for spending on the existing school at some point in the future. The current structure, which is over 60 years old, does not meet the needs of classrooms today. Some science labs don’t have access to water, and most rooms are too small for the collaborative environment a 21st century education requires.
The town also will have to continue picking up the cost of keeping the middle school secure, and renting modular units for use as classrooms.
The SBC appears to have done its work in developing the plan. The group has held multiple meetings and made themselves available to the public for input, leading to efficiencies that resulted in a school design that is right for Westport.
The building of the new school will not only benefit junior and senior high school students; the elementary school and town library will see well and septic improvements. Concerns about a building housing students from grades 5 through 12 have been addressed in a design that keeps the junior and senior grades separate, and concerns from abutters about drainage issues have been addressed.
Taking all of these factors in consideration, Westport residents should support the proposal.