ORLEANS — The May 31 deadline to qualify the redevelopment of Nauset Regional High School for $36 million in state funds toward the $132 million project cost is not hard and fast, according to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
“We’ve granted two extensions (to the project) during the COVID period,” MSBA Executive Director and Deputy CEO Jack McCarthy told The Chronicle Jan. 15. “Nobody has asked us for a third extension.” He said the agency “would entertain a request. That doesn’t mean we would grant it.”
McCarthy confirmed that state Rep. Tim Whelan, whose district includes the Nauset town of Brewster, had spoken with MSBA Director of Operations Matt Donovan about the possibility of another extension. During the regional school committee meeting’s public comment section Jan. 14, Adam Lange read a statement from Whelan addressed to Brewster residents:
“With regard to the Nauset Regional School Committee’s recent vote to circumvent town meetings in the four towns of the school district because of their concerns surrounding the May deadline for execution of the agreement with the (MSBA), I spoke to MSBA today who advised they would be very willing to entertain any request for an extension on the existing deadline,” Whelan wrote. “The MSBA fully understands the difficulties COVID has placed on municipal operations. Superintendent Conrad can make this request directly to MSBA, or I am happy to carry such a request to the MSBA on the district’s behalf.”
The regional committee voted last month to schedule a district-wide vote on the project rather than present it at town meetings in each of the four member communities. In a press release, the committee pointed to “the ongoing COVID pandemic and a firm state deadline for funding” as reasons for the change, including the possibility of town meetings being delayed past the deadline. After May 31, the release stated, “state funding will be withdrawn. There will be no deadline extensions, the MSBA has said.”
During the committee’s Dec. 10 meeting, regional committee vice chair Judith Schumacher said, “Greg’s people” (referring to building committee chair Greg Levasseur) “have gone to the MSBA. The MSBA has said this is it, no more extensions. We now face a drop-dead date by May 31, 2021. We have to have voter approval for the proposed renovation project or we lose the $36 million in state funding.”
In a statement released Jan. 15, Levasseur wrote that the two extensions already received “amount to a 418-day MSBA extension on voting, the longest ever given. There is no guarantee of a third.” Noting that “state law allows for a simultaneous district-wide ballot vote,” Levasseur called that “without a doubt, the most democratic option. It allows for balloting by mail and will attract the largest number of voters in the region. In these COVID days, a representative number of voters are not likely to sit at public town meetings, then go to the polls in a two-step process.”
“It’s too recent to have a plan yet on moving forward,” regional school committee chair Chris Easley said when asked whether Nauset would request a third extension and try to bring the project before town meetings rather than pursue a district-wide vote. “But,” he said, “one-person, one vote (at the polls) is democracy, and that is the method. I’m not concerned that that’s undemocratic. I think it is the most democratic.”