PLEASANT LAKE — There's no escaping the fact that a new building to replace the aging Cape Tech school will be costly. But according to projections released last week, it will be a bit less costly than initially thought.
Owing to more detailed design information and some constructive pencil-sharpening, cost estimates for the new school have dropped from about $141 million to around $128 million. Speaking at last week's Chatham selectmen's meeting, Superintendent Robert Sanborn said thanks to new detailed design drawings, environmental testing and other factors, “the number came down significantly.”
Though outwardly in good shape, the existing building suffers from outdated electrical and climate control systems and has instructional spaces that are inadequate for today's course of study. The current building was constructed more than 42 years ago, and before this project, the district hasn't asked member towns for any capital funds to maintain the building, relying instead on its own annual budget. Sanborn said the building has been meticulously maintained, and while it doesn't appear obsolete, “it's what's behind the walls, it's things that have reached their useful life” that make a new building necessary.
By statute, the projected $128 million replacement cost is shared among the district's 12 member towns using a rolling formula based on each town's enrollment. In the current fiscal year, 10 students from Chatham are attending Cape Tech, 77 students are coming from Harwich and 15 come from Orleans.
Based on the average single family home value – and assuming steady enrollment figures – the project would add about $22.74 to the average Orleans property tax bill each year over 30 years. In Harwich, the figure would be $66.51, and in Chatham, the impact would be just $8.73.
But Chatham Selectmen Chairman Cory Metters noted that while only 10 students came from Chatham this year, the number has been as high as 23 in recent years. “It could very well increase,” he said. Sanborn concurred, saying that in districts with relatively low enrollment like Chatham and Orleans, a small fluctuation in enrollment can cause a big increase in the capital assessment.
“One student's a large increase,” he said.
The cost estimates assume that the Massachusetts School Building Authority reimburses 45.45 percent of eligible project costs, though the actual reimbursement rate will be somewhat lower because of state caps.
The school building committee considered a number of options for the project, including a renovation of the existing school, which was deemed impractical. Officials favor building a new school to the east of the current building, which will allow classes to continue in the old school while the new one is being built.
The proposed building will have room for 650 students, with flexible academic spaces and a host of modern vocational shops.
The district-wide vote on the new school building is scheduled for Oct. 24, with polls in all 12 towns to be open from noon to 8 p.m. A simple majority vote of all ballots cast will decide the question, Sanborn said. If the vote prevails, groundbreaking will be held in 2019, with the new school slated for completion in 2021. The old school would then be demolished and cleared for parking and new sports fields.
The need for vocational education is stronger than ever on Cape Cod, as anyone will attest who's tried to hire a plumber, landscaper or electrician, Sanborn said. Many companies are actively recruiting people with vocational training, and current tradesmen are aging out and will create new vacancies, he said.
“The replacement jobs are going to be enormous,” he said. Not only are Cape Tech students in high demand, but “our graduates tend to stay on Cape Cod,” he said. Retaining these young people is not just about workforce development, Sanborn said. “It's also a sustainability issue.”
Chatham Selectman Amanda Love, whose daughter recently graduated from Cape Tech, said she was struck by the large number of scholarships and “tool-ships” offered to this year's graduating class.
“That's a huge support from the community,” she said. “It speaks volumes.”
On a motion by Love, the Chatham board voted unanimously to express its support for the building project.