The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) voted unanimously today to approve the Amherst Elementary School Building project and authorized its Executive Director to execute a Project Scope and Budget Agreement and Project Funding Agreement with the Town.
Amherst Elementary School Building Committee Chair and Town Councilor Cathy Schoen said, “Two of the three pieces to build a new elementary school are now in place. We anticipate that the MSBA grant could be approximately $40.5 million once all incentives and contingencies are included. If the Town’s voters approve the Debt Exclusion on May 2nd, the Town will be on its way to opening a new school in 2026. It will be the Town’s first public net-zero building as well as a school to serve our children, teachers, and Town for decades to come.”
State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg stated, “Upon completion, this project will provide a new 21st century learning environment for students in Amherst. Our goal is to create the best space to deliver the District’s educational commitments and goals.” Treasurer Goldberg is the Chair of the Massachusetts School Building Authority and the MSBA Executive Director/Deputy CEO is John K. McCarthy.
The Board approved an Estimated Maximum Total Facilities Grant of $39,640,520, which does not include any funds for Potentially Eligible Owner’s or Construction Contingency Expenditures. In the event that the MSBA determines that any Owner’s and/or Construction Contingency Expenditures are eligible for reimbursement, the Maximum Total Facilities Grant for the Fort River Elementary School Project may increase to as much as $40,466,011.
The proposed project would consolidate the student population of the existing Fort River Elementary School and the Wildwood Elementary School and construct a new facility serving grades K-5 on the site of the existing Fort River Elementary School. As a component of this proposed consolidation, the Amherst School Committee has voted and approved to relocate the District’s 6th grade student population to the Amherst-Pelham Middle School.
Senator Jo Comerford and Representative Mindy Domb were instrumental in moving this project forward and both spoke in favor of the Elementary School Building Project at the MSBA meeting. They expressed great gratitude and deep appreciation to Treasurer Goldberg, Executive Director McCarthy, members of the MSBA, and MSBA staff for their extraordinary partnership with the Town of Amherst to advance this project and make it a reality.
Town Council President Lynn Griesemer added, “A new elementary school is crucial to the future of the Town. The Town Council has dedicated $5 million in reserves – one-half of its capital reserves - to offset the expense of the new school. In addition, the Town Council has asked the Town Manager to seek options to fund an additional $5 million in other funds to reduce the tax impact on property owners.”
A Town-wide Debt Exclusion vote is scheduled for Tuesday, May 2nd. Early voting is available in Town Hall on Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mail-in ballots are due in the Town Clerk’s office by May 2nd. Election day is Tuesday, May 2nd.
Superintendent of Schools Mike Morris, who spoke on behalf of the Town at the MSBA meeting, said, “This important vote by the MSBA brings the possibility of educating our students in a school facility that aligns with the outstanding nature of our staff and fully supports the promise of our students one step closer to reality.”
“The support of the MSBA is a critical part of the funding plan to build a new elementary school on the Fort River site,” said Town Manager Paul Bockelman. He added, “The Town Council has voted, the MSBA has voted, and now it is up to the voters to decide if they want to build a new elementary school.”
This vote will determine whether the Town can move forward with the new elementary school building by levying additional property taxes beyond the limits of Proposition 2 ½.
Information on the School Building Project can be found here: https://www.amherst-school-project.com/
Information and FAQ's on the debt exclusion ballot question and finances can be found here: https://www.amherstma.gov/3706/Debt-Exclusion-2023
The community is voting on whether to authorize the Town to raise the amount needed, outside of the Levy Limit, to make principal and interest payments on a 30-year loan.
- A “YES” vote would allow the Town to proceed with the construction of a new elementary school.
- A “NO” vote would not allow the Town to construct a new elementary school.
If the debt exclusion is not passed by the Amherst community members, the Town would not be able to proceed with building a new elementary school as trying to fund the cost of the project within the Levy Limit will significantly reduce the amounts available for Town operations and other projects. In addition, the plan to renovate or replace the Fire Station, Jones Library, and Public Works facility would need to be reevaluated. One potential outcome is that the Town would need to invest in temporary repairs to the existing buildings which are aging and in poor condition.
The special town election is being held on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, polls will be open from 7:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Those registered to vote in Amherst are encouraged to head to their regular polling places on this day. Early voting is available in Town Hall on Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mail-in ballots are due in the Town Clerk’s office by May 2nd. Election day is Tuesday, May 2nd.
To view a sample ballot, look up your polling place, and more: please visit www.amherstma.gov/vote