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Hingham successful in reducing school penalty

Hingham officials have negotiated a $448,531 reduction in the penalty associated with tearing down an addition at Hingham Middle School ahead of schedule.

The $5.6 million addition, constructed in 1996, was intended to last decades, and the debt associated with the project was amortized over 20 years. Although that debt is still being paid off, the existing school and the expansion will be torn down to make way for the $58.5 million middle school that will be built next door.

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Because the expansion, which was partially funded by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, is being torn down earlier than its intended lifespan, the authority informed Hingham School Committee members this summer that it would take back $782,974 of the initial grant given to Hingham for that expansion.

Hingham officials staunchly opposed the “clawback,” and through letters and conference calls with MSBA officials, asked that it be reduced.

Earlier this month, Hingham received word that the MSBA would instead take back $334,443 of the initial grant, reducing the penalty by 57 percent.

“I think it’s a terrific result,” said Ray Estes, a School Committee member and chairman of the School Building Committee. “Our argument had been, ‘Look, we’re not repurposing this building, we’re taking it out of service.’

“So we have specific circumstances in this case, because MSBA participated in the decision to build a new school rather than renovate the old one. . . so we thought we had a strong argument that the clawback should be significantly reduced.”

The $334,443 will be recouped over a seven-year period from the bucket of grant money given to Hingham for all MSBA projects in town.

The news of the reduced clawback follows other good news about the construction of Hingham Middle School, which is ahead of schedule and under budget.

The budget reduction was finalized at a recent selectmen’s meeting after contractor bids came in lower than expected.

Overall, the roughly $2.5 million in savings will be split between the MSBA and the town, reducing the project’s overall cost to $58.4 million from $60.9 million, and the town’s share to $33.6 million from $35 million.

“We have made a number of efforts to save Hingham taxpayers as much as we could every step of the way, beginning with the design phase with aggressive engineering . . . and having the benefit of a low bid from the general contractor in May,” Estes said.

He noted that final costs won’t be determined until 2015 or later, after the new school is built, the site work is completed, and the final MSBA audit is conducted and closed out.

The project is also a week or two ahead of schedule, with the foundation work taking place ahead of projections.

Steel is to be delivered by Monday, with erection of the building to start soon afterward.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.
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