Editor’s note: This article was revised after its initial publication to include clarifying information.
ORLEANS — The proposed renovation and expansion of Nauset Regional High School is such a big deal that even the idea of having Provincetown and Truro possibly join the four-town system is just part of the story.
“This past year, we have been involved in negotiations” with the two outermost towns, Nauset Superintendent Tom Conrad told the board of selectmen Sept. 18 during a presentation on the building project. “One of the pieces we put on the table was possibly for the first time, though it’s been mentioned in years past, about coming together. We have a variety of members working on this and have had one meeting already.”
In an interview by phone Sept. 27, Truro Supt. Michael Gradone provided some details of the conversation, noting that a possible merger was just one small part of a wide-ranging discussion among representatives of the three systems regarding how best to serve students from Brewster to Provincetown. (Conrad was not available for comment due to illness).
Gradone stressed the exploratory nature of the morning’s discussion, which included, for example, the possibility of wider implementation of Provincetown’s K-8 International Baccalaureate program.
The idea of a future merger was brought up last winter during talks between Nauset and the two outermost systems regarding a tuition agreement covering Provincetown and Truro’s high school students attending Nauset High in Eastham, according to Gradone. Neither town has its own high school. Gradone said all agreed to put off further discussions about working together more closely until after the tuition agreement was in place.
At the end of June, Gradone said, the three systems met for the promised discussion of ways to work together to serve the needs of students from Brewster to Provincetown. Members of the Nauset, Provincetown, and Truro school committees attended, as did Gradone and retiring Provincetown Superintendent Beth Singer. Conrad could not attend, so Nauset was represented by Assistant Superintendent Keith Gauley.
At the end of the meeting, Gradone said, “There was a consensus that the superintendents should get together” to continue the conversation. With the departure of Singer on July 1, that meeting has yet to take place. The Provincetown system’s new superintendent is Suzanne Scallion.
There are financial factors regarding the Nauset High building project that would be affected by a possible merger of the three systems. At the Sept. 18 meeting, Selectman Kevin Galligan noted that the Massachusetts School Building Authority provides higher rates of project reimbursement for newly formed regional school districts.
The estimated cost of the school project is $140 million, according to building committee chairman Greg Levasseur, of which the state would reimburse almost 42 percent. “The MSBA puts on 4 percent more for schools that renovate,” he said. The remainder, about $97 million, would be paid by the towns of Brewster, Eastham, Orleans, and Wellfleet based on their enrollment. About half of Nauset’s students come from Brewster and around 20 percent from Orleans.
“There are no guarantees how this plays out,” Conrad said of the chances of Provincetown and Truro coming on board and sharing the costs.
Before the Nauset towns’ voters have their say, perhaps next spring, the project requires further approval from the MSBA. Levasseur said the agency has invited the committee to move forward with a fuller delineation of the project and its costs prior to a vote of the agency’s board in February. He said a timeline and many other documents, eventually including the 600-page preferred schematic design report, can be inspected at nausetbuildingproject.com
“We realize this is a lot of money,” Conrad said. “We had serious discussions about educational plans. We’re looking at the possibility of this being the communities’ learning center for all citizens. When learning stops at any age, good things stop happening… Right now, we have a very small adult education program at the middle school. We see a robust opportunity to open doors for all citizens.”
The proposed performing arts center on the campus would seat 750 and be easily accessible after-hours for community events, according to Levasseur.
Selectman Cecil Newcomb asked about enrollment trends for the school, which is being built for 905 students. Conrad said the MSBA “did an intense demographic study of population trends. They were the ones who came up with the number. That was set by the MSBA, whether we agreed or disagreed. We did have a hearing with them.”
Later in the meeting, finance committee member Bob Renn said that enrollment levels in earlier grades in the Nauset system “don’t support a population of 900 or so students… I want our towns and the other towns to make prudent decisions and a wise investment so we’re not putting more money into a facility that will be underutilized by the time it’s completed or shortly thereafter.” Renn also suggested renovating the existing auditorium rather than building a new one.
Renn was among those who took a tour of the high school this summer, which he called “a very through walk-through with a member of the building committee.” That opportunity remains available on Wednesdays between 4 and 6 p.m., according to Conrad. “Telephone the main office and tell them you’re coming,” he said. “You will get the exact tour the MSBA saw when they selected us” for potential funding. In addition, the superintendent and building committee members are looking to provide more information sessions in the region’s communities. Anyone wishing to take a tour or schedule a presentation is invited to call the high school at 508-255-1505, ext. 5216.
The Nauset High School Building Committee’s next meeting is Monday, Sept. 30, at 5:30 p.m. at the high school on Cable Road in Eastham.