EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 19, 2014

Hampstead Budget Committee advises against school renovations

Chairman: $6.18M price is too high

By Alex Lippa

---- — HAMPSTEAD — A proposal for major school renovations will have at least a few opponents before it goes before voters at Town Meeting.

The town’s Budget Committee unanimously voted not to recommend $6.18 million of renovations to Hampstead Central and Middle School.

Budget Committee Chairman Matthew Murphy said the cost was just too high for taxpayers.

“I don’t know how I’d be able to afford it,” Murphy said. “It’s just a little too much for taxpayers to handle right now.”

Most of the improvements would be done at Hampstead Central School, where $5.52 million worth of work is being proposed. The district is proposing 15,500 square feet of new space and 10,500 square feet of renovated space. The work would replace six portable classrooms.

“Those classrooms were only supposed to serve a few years,” Hampstead School Board Chairman Natalie Gallo said. “It’s been close to 20 now.”

Taxpayers would pay for the work through a 10-year bond. With interest, the cost would rise to about $7.47 million.

“The tax rate would increase because of this project alone by about 83 cents in one year of the bond,” Murphy said. “That’s really the crux of it. I just think we’re biting off more than we can chew.”

Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson said other options were considered for this renovation plan.

“Everything was considered,” Wilson said. “It’s gone through many different conversations with the School Board and facilities department. We thought it would be better as one project. If we do it little by little, it’s going to cost us more in the long run.”

She said she was disappointed by the Budget Committee’s vote.

“I hoped they might have a more favorable opinion,” Wilson said. “But we are still going forward with this and it’s up to the voters.”

At Hampstead Middle School, there would be $816,555 worth of renovations. The school plans to renovate the library, computer lab and the front entrance.

“We feel we’re presenting something that’s realistic now, and in the future,” Gallo said.

Gallo said she understood Murphy’s concerns, but said she thinks it’s best for her to push forward.

“We’re taking the initiative to get the ball running,” she said. “If we wait, then it turns out like the police station, and it seems like it will never happen.”

Voters approved a $1.63 million police station at last year’s Town Meeting after four unsuccessful tries.

After approving a big-ticket item last year, Murphy said he doesn’t think taxpayers are ready for another one.

“This one is about six times that,” he said. “For a district whose population is staying about the same, it’s way too expensive for taxpayers to undertake.”

Residents will get a chance to alter the article at the deliberative session on Feb. 4.