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Lexington

Vote nears on modular classrooms

A Lexington Special Town Meeting will vote Nov. 4 on whether to appropriate funds to build modular classrooms at Lexington High School and to renovate the town’s new community center.

Selectmen voted last week to recommend spending $7.7 million for the modular classrooms. They also are supporting an appropriation of $3.16 million for renovation and construction work at the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry’s former headquarters at 39 Marrett Road, which the town has agreed to purchase for $11 million for use as a community center. The deal is scheduled to close Dec. 3.

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On Thursday, the town’s Community Preservation Committee voted to recommend that $2.8 million from the funds raised by the preservation act tax surcharge be spent on the community center project.

Town Manager Carl Valente said he has not heard of any opposition to the two appropriations.

“I suspect it’s largely because they have been in the works for over a year,” Valente said. “If people had concerns, they would have raised them last year when we were raising money for engineering work [for both projects].”

Modular classrooms would help ease the high school’s overcrowding problems, said Superintendent Paul Ash. He said enrollment at the high school was projected to rise.

He also said overcrowding at the high school was exacerbated when 12 general education classrooms were converted to other uses, including for special education and information technology.

Ash said the modular classrooms would not compensate for both the enrollment increase and general classroom loss, but it would act as a stopgap measure until fiscal year 2018, when the town will conduct a study on whether to renovate or replace the high school.

“Adding 12 classrooms will not bring us back to the space we had in 2000 [the last time the school was renovated], but it will help a lot,” Ash said.

If Town Meeting approves the modular classrooms, the town will fund them through a combination of borrowing bonds and surplus fiscal 2014 revenue. Valente said revenues for fiscal 2014 were $1.94 million higher than projected in the spring.

Of that money, the town needs $140,000 for two items: $54,000 to cover the cost of the two special elections for the congressional seat vacated by Edward Markey, and $86,000 to pay for education programs whose federal funding was slashed because of sequestration. Special Town Meeting will take up those appropriations.

That leaves $1.8 million. The town is recommending that Town Meeting vote to put that money into reserve accounts and use it to help underwrite the cost of modular classrooms. The town would also use an additional $1 million that Town Meeting voted to put in a reserve account in this past spring.

“We will use that $2.8 million to reduce the impact of bonding on taxpayers,” Valente said. “[The reserve account] is basically a savings account for us.”

A combination of free cash and Community Preservation Act funds would be used to pay for the community center renovation and construction project, said Valente and Selectmen chairwoman Deb Mauger.

Department of Public Facilities director Pat Goddard told selectmen on Monday that he originally thought between $750,000 and $1.25 million would be needed for the first phase of the community center renovation. But under a new approach, the town would tackle more work in phase 1 of the project. Phase 1 now includes structural improvements, audio/visual systems for improved functionality, new signs, and architectural services.

“We’re just bringing more work forward to stage 1,” Goddard said, adding that last December an assessment indicated that up to $8.5 million would be needed to completely renovate the center.

Mauger said the town had fielded many complaints that the space at the existing senior center is not adequate. Mauger said the new community center, which is slated to open in September or October 2014, will help the town deal with the lack of space at the senior center.

She said the new community center would also allow the town to expand its services and add intergenerational programming

“It’s quite an exciting time for us,” Mauger said. “But of course we have to do it all in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Special Town Meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Cary Memorial Building at 1605 Massachusetts Ave.

Emily Cataneo can be reached at emilycataneo@gmail.com.
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