Wellington vote unlikely for April Ballot

A special election to pass a debt exclusion for the construction of a new Wellington Elementary will almost certainly be needed, as negotiations on the final price tag for construction of a new Wellington Elementary School between the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) and the town continue. The delays will make it impossible for town leaders to put a vote on a debt exclusion to fund construction before voters in the town’s April election. 

Word on the delay came down late this week from School Dept. Finance Director Gerry Missal, who said that meetings between the town, its architects, project managers and MSBA staff were progressing, but that questions over cost estimates were slowing the process of reaching a Funding Agreement that is necessary before going out to bid on the project.

At issue seem to be cost differences between the cost of the Wellington project compared with that of a similarly sized project in Hingham, Mass., one of the more recent projects to pass MSBA muster. At the meeting, Wellington Building Committee Chairman Mark Haley and vice-chair Pat Brusch, as well as Jonathan Levi of Jonathan Levi Architects and project managers PMA explained that differences in the siting of the two projects and the need to do site improvements at the Wellington (the site includes the remains of a previously demolished building) and energy efficiency features explained the cost/sq ft. differences with the Hingham project. When those factors were subtracted, the two projects had similar per-square foot costs.  They also described $2 million in value engineering reductions to the Wellington project.

Mary Pichetti of the MSBA will now take those adjusted figures back to her larger team for feedback. Furthermore, there are still questions about which unique features of the Wellington project would be reimbursable by the state, Missal noted. As an example, MSBA generally hasn’t reimbursed towns for demolition costs, and Belmont is looking for guidance on whether those costs might be reimbursable with the Wellington. But with the Selectmen facing a March 2nd deadline to get a question on the April ballot, the MSBA sent a signal that it would not have all those issues ironed out in time. 

While the delay gives backers of the Wellington project more time to organize, it greatly complicates matters for the town’s political leadership, which is also juggling a vote on an operational override. At public forums and elsewhere, town leaders have floated the idea of putting off the override vote until late spring until the state’s budget has been settled and the town has a clearer picture of what’s coming its way in the form of local aid, etc. However, those calculations were based on the assumption that the Wellington vote would come in April. With that vote postponed, the town faces the possibility of a combined override-debt exclusion vote that backers of both measures would likely find politically unpalatable.