ORLEANS – Two ballot questions will go before Orleans voters at the Jan. 10 election called to secure additional funding for the Nauset Regional High School renovation.
The select board unanimously voted Nov. 9 to put the questions on the ballot. The town will join the other Nauset district towns of Eastham, Wellfleet and Brewster in holding elections on Jan. 10.
One question will seek authority to move ahead with the project with the additional $38.1 million needed to cover the project's construction costs.
"Each of the four towns have to approve that, or the project doesn't go forward," Town Administrator John Kelly said.
The second would seek authority to fund Orleans' share of that cost via a debt exclusion of Proposition 2½. Kevin Galligan of the select board said that regardless of what happens with the first question, the town needs to protect itself by voting in favor of the debt exclusion.
"If we vote this tonight, and I'm in favor of it, it's basically so if this comes our way, it doesn't suck our levy capacity," he said. Kelly confirmed that the town does not have the capacity to support the additional funding without the debt exclusion.
The four towns held a similar district-wide election in March 2021, where $131.8 million was initially approved for the project. Of that figure, $36.6 million is being covered by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The remaining $95.1 million cost will be shared among the four district towns.
But inflation and the increased cost of materials led subcontractor bids on the project to come in approximately $20 million over budget. As a result, the project's low bidder, Brait Builders, put forth a bid that was almost $30 million higher than what the district had budgeted for construction.
The Nauset Regional School Committee voted Nov. 3 to hold the Jan. 10 elections in each of the district towns. But the upcoming election was not met with open arms by Orleans resident Martin Culick. During the Nov. 9 meeting's public comment period, he criticized the renovation project as a "rush job" and called the project's cost "outrageous."
Culick echoed the sentiment that's been expressed by some in the district towns that the project is too big, especially given the district's declining enrollment. The project as planned would accommodate 905 students when finished.
Culick urged the select board to table its vote to place the questions on the ballot. Instead, he said the select board and finance committee should take the time to explore alternatives for reducing the project's size.
"We have been told that the district would lose their state funding if the size of the school is changed," he said. "With the current economic crisis facing our residents, the district and the state, it is important to talk about the financial impacts of the current project, the increased costs and the need for flexibility."
The district should also look into bringing the towns of Provincetown and Truro into the district, he said. Currently, the district has a contract with the two towns that expires in 2024.
"High school students from these towns have been attending Nauset Regional High School for many years, but the Ptown and Truro school districts have not been contributing to the cost of constructing a new high school," he said.
Finance Director Cathy Doane prepared a projected 25-year bond scenario for the select board that outlined what the financial implications might be for Orleans residents if the ballot questions pass in January. The figures show that at a bond interest rate of 4.5 percent, the impact on a home per $100,000 of value would go up from a total of $581.75 to $1,009.80 through 2049, a difference of $428.06. The increase breaks down to about $17 a year.
The figures presented to the select board are tentative as they are based on the town's current contribution to the Nauset regional school budget, which is subject to change over time.
Orleans officials last week said while having to pay more money is not ideal, it's what is needed to follow through on the much-discussed renovation project.
"Doing nothing is not supporting our community," Galligan said.
Kelly said the election will be held in-person at the Orleans Senior Center. Voters can also vote early by mail, but there will be no option for in-person early voting, he said.
The select board is scheduled to meet with the Nauset Regional School Committee on Dec. 14 to discuss the project and the election. The public will also be able to speak and ask questions.
"I'm going to have a lot of questions for them," Galligan said. "I'm going to send them out in advance."
Email Ryan Bray at firstname.lastname@example.org