Wth the ground broken for the new Hingham Middle School, the state says Hingham won’t receive $783,000 in expected reimbursements for construction of part of the existing school, which will soon be torn down.
According to Hingham officials, a $5.6 million addition, constructed in 1996, was bonded for 20 years. When it was built, the goal was to increase capacity for the school and add a state-of-the-art science wing, media center, and library.
But the whole structure is scheduled to go under the wrecking ball and be replaced by an entirely new school next door, with much of the $60.9 million cost to be reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The authority also provided reimbursements for the addition. But with several years remaining on the bond, and with the clock ticking on the use of the building, town and state officials are disputing who should pay off the remaining debt.
Under the state authority’s statute, towns that replace buildings that the agency helped finance have to pay off the remaining debt on their own.
The subject was brought up a year ago, when the overall reimbursement package to the town was reduced, or “clawed back,” by $783,000 as part of the project funding agreement for the new middle school.
Yet Hingham officials recently began a campaign, with the help of state legislators, to reduce that amount.
Town Administrator Ted Alexiades wrote a letter protesting the amount, and state Representative Garrett Bradley, a Hingham Democrat, brought up the issue with the school building authority and the state treasurer’s office.
Their efforts prompted town officials to host a conference call with authority staff this month, and discussions about reducing the size of the clawback are ongoing. A decision isn’t expected until the fall.
According to Hingham officials, since the town was invited into the school building authority’s model school program for the new middle school, the agency should live up to its previous reimbursement promise.
“We’re not keeping this building in place and repurposing it for some other town use. We’re taking it out of service. It didn’t live up to its anticipated or expected lifespan,” said Ray Estes, School Committee vice chairman and School Building Committee chairman.
“The MSBA agreed with us, because they gave us an invitation to replace the whole school. Based on that logic, they shouldn’t be looking to reduce or claw back at all,’’ Estes said.
Also up for debate is the scheduling for the clawback.
Initially, school authority staff scheduled the reductions to begin in 2013. Yet because the existing school will be in use until 2014, that schedule seems premature to Hingham officials.
At Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new middle school, school building authority staffers said they were considering changes.
“It’s a unique situation, and we’re going to look at it,” said John McCarthy, executive director for the Massachusetts School Building Authority.