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FRANKLIN

High school plan will be on ballot

A new Franklin High School looks closer to becoming a reality, and several other school replacement projects in the region, including Angier Elementary in Newton and Estabrook Elementary in Lexington, are also moving forward.

The Franklin Town Council voted last week to put a question on the March 27 ballot asking residents whether they would support a property tax increase to help pay for the new school.

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The decision came a week after the Massachusetts School Building Authority agreed to pitch in $54.6 million in reimbursements to help replace Franklin High School, a project that is expected to cost $104.6 million.

The authority also pushed the Estabrook and Angier elementary schools along in the process.

In Franklin, Thomas Mercer, a Town Council member and chairman of the building committee, called the authority’s vote to provide funding “a milestone that we’ve been looking forward to.

“We’re very excited about the project, and looking forward to the next couple of months,’’ he said.

Franklin officials have discussed replacing the high school since 2005, when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges warned that the facility risked losing its accreditation due in part to the condition of the building.

An architectural firm hired by the town found that the school had several handicapped-accessibility problems, many of the classrooms were at the lowest recommended size, science labs and classrooms were outdated, and hallways were congested.

The new high school will be built under the authority’s “model school’’ program, which provides communities an already certified school design and parameters for the building in an effort to keep costs down.

There are 18 schools participating in the model school program, including Franklin High, according to the authority’s website.

Franklin taxpayers would have to pay more in taxes to cover the town’s share of the project. Officials calculate that the tax bill for a home assessed at $352,700, the town’s average, would increase by $260 starting in the 2017 fiscal year, and the higher levies would continue through 2040.

“It will be up to the voters,’’ Mercer said.

If the measure passes, workers would start construction this fall, Mercer said.

In Lexington, voters last month approved a plan to raise taxes for the new Estabrook Elementary School and the renovation of two elementary schools.

Lexington is expected to receive reimbursements from the authority for about 32 percent of the cost of building Estabrook, which has an estimated price tag of $42.8 million.

Lexington officials decided to rebuild Estabrook after they discovered potentially harmful levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the building in 2010. Estabrook was briefly closed while officials brought the chemical levels back in compliance with federal standards, but many parents continued to worry about the school.

The MSBA moved Estabrook into the design phase of the building process.

The addition and renovation project at the Lincoln School in Lincoln, estimated at $49 million, will also skip into the design process, the authority determined late last month.

The authority also promoted the Angier Elementary School project in Newton, inviting city officials to start looking at the feasibility of replacing the 92-year-old building. The authority hasn’t committed to helping the city pay for the school’s replacement, but it’s a good first step, said Bob Rooney, Newton’s chief operating officer.

The city staff has suggested that aldermen set aside $750,000 to hire a consultant for the Angier feasibility study, which is necessary for the authority to determine whether it will participate further, Rooney said.

The money for the feasibility study would come from savings in Newton’s health care claims this year.

Angier is among the top infrastructure priorities highlighted in Mayor Setti Warren’s November listing of $240 million in capital needs. City funding for the school still needs to be determined, and Warren is holding community meetings with residents to discuss the capital needs and how to pay for them.

Alderwoman Ruthanne Fuller said while she supports the Angier replacement, she is concerned with the city’s proposal to use health care funds for the feasibility study. The city needs to fund its future retiree health care costs, and should be putting savings toward that liability, Fuller said.

“As important as Angier Elementary School is, and we need to do the feasibility study, I would prefer a different funding source,’’ Fuller said.

The Board of Aldermen is slated to discuss funding for the feasibility study before taking a vote on Feb. 20.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@ globe.com.
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