Whitingham voters will be voting on a 20-year, $9,475,000 bond, the cost of renovations and construction at Whitingham School. Wilmington voters will vote on a 20-year, $3,977,884 bond for renovations and construction at Deerfield Valley Elementary School. Despite the lopsided bond figures, however, the cost of paying for both bonds will be split in the same way that regular Twin Valley School budget costs are assessed, by the percentage of each town’s students in the district, or “average daily membership” (ADM). The split has traditionally hovered around 60% for Wilmington and 40% for Whitingham. For the upcoming fiscal year, however, board members expect a 57/43 split.
The good news for local taxpayers is that the state education department estimates that almost all of the project will be eligible for the state’s 50% school construction aid. A mere 1.48% of the Whitingham project, or $140,000, was deemed ineligible for state aid, leaving 98.52% of the project eligible for the funding. The board’s initial cost estimates were predicated on a conservative estimate that 80% of the project would be eligible for the funding.
At DVES, 1.76% of the project, about $70,000, won’t be eligible for state construction aid.
But the board’s initial cost and tax impact estimates have changed from those offered during informational meetings last summer thanks to mandated changes in the project and the shift in balance of student population between the two towns.
During the first year, Whitingham’s 43% share (using current figures) of the bond cost is estimated to be about 8 cents. Wilmington’s 57% share would come at a considerably lower impact on the tax rate, less than a cent, at 0.4 cents.
In the second year, the most expensive of the bond, Whitingham taxpayers would see an additional 1.5 cents, a total of 9.5 cents, for the bond. Wilmington taxpayers would see an increase to a total of 2.1 cents added to their tax rate.
After the first two years, the bond cost would begin to drop in both towns. Twin Valley School Board member Phil Taylor also notes that one of the costs factored into the payback is the cost of interest on the state’s share of the project – figured at $55,000 in Whitingham and $78,000 in Wilmington each year. Once the state pays its obligation, the towns will see a decrease. “That’s when we’ll really start to see the savings.”
Taylor says the state’s “average” payback period for their bond obligations is three to four years. “We don’t know when the state will pay, but I think that’s a reasonable expectation,” Taylor says. “There aren’t a lot of people in line right now, there’s no school construction going on.”
Another impact on the cost for both towns, however, is the projected savings in educational costs achieved through the consolidation. According to the Twin Valley board’s latest calculations, consolidation would result in a net annual savings of about $433,000 in education costs.
The bond warning is the latest development in efforts to improve school facilities stretching back more than a decade. Last July, board members held a series of community informational meetings on two proposals, including one to close the current Twin Valley High School and consolidate the Whitingham and Wilmington K-6 program at Deerfield Valley Elementary School, and create a middle/high school at Whitingham School. In a subsequent vote on consolidation, a majority of voters in both towns supported consolidation, and the DVES/Whitingham option received more votes than an alternative option that would have kept the current high school facility and mothballed DVES.
The latest cost estimates are higher than those discussed at the summer meetings thanks to changes in construction plans, some mandated. Taylor says the board added about $70,000 in furniture costs after taking an inventory of existing furniture deemed serviceable enough to remain in use. The board also added $172,000 for asbestos abatement for materials at Whitingham School and the boiler rooms at both schools.
The board also added another $535,690 for sprinkler systems at both schools. “When we met with the state, there were concerns that we weren’t putting in sprinkler systems,” Taylor says. “Although we designed things so that we wouldn’t need sprinklers, and could have legally argued that, but (state school construction aid specialist) Cathy Hilgendorf wanted to see us have sprinklers. If, at some point, all schools are mandated to have sprinkler systems, it’s better to do it now and get the state to pay 50% of the cost.”
The state also urged an increase in space for family and consumer science, and the latest construction budget includes $100,000 for an FCS room. The board also included $345,000 to improve athletic fields. “All of our fields are not adequately drained, and they can’t keep up with the constant activity without a lengthy period of recovery. We talked about two options with Stevens & Associates and went with the least costly option, which includes drainage, and stripping, regrading, and crowning the fields.”
Finally, the board added $150,000 for a wood-pellet boiler at DVES. The wood-pellet boiler would burn pellets delivered in bulk and, based on their experience with Whitingham School’s wood-chip boiler, save a significant amount of money in fuel costs. Taylor says it would also extend the life of the school’s existing oil-fired boilers, which would only be used for backup. “The best thing about the wood-pellet boiler is that it’s 75% reimbursable from the state. That’s a huge win for us, to be able to save on fuel costs and have the state pay for most of the project.”
Informational meetings are tentatively set for Tuesday, February 13, and Tuesday, March 13.