Opinion: Jennifer Shiao’s School Committee Blog. Regional School Committee Approves High School Track And Field Project

This sign, announcing the closure of athletic fields at Amherst Regional High School, was a common sight last spring. Photo: Art Keene

Regional School Committee Meeting,  3/15/22

Editor’s note: The Indy will now post Jennifer Shiao’s School Committee Blog as new entries become available. Shiao’s original posts can be found here.  An archive of her blog posts in The Indy can be found here.

Last night (3/15), in an 8-1 vote, the Regional School Committee (RSC) approved a motion to approve borrowing $1.5 million for the ARHS track and field project:

MOTION: Move that the District appropriates the amount of One Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($1,500,000) to pay costs of resurfacing the existing track, relocating field events areas, improving access to the existing facility, installing perimeter fencing and pathways systems to provide ADA accessibility to the existing track, and for the payment of all other costs incidental and related thereto, and that to meet this appropriation the Treasurer, with the approval of the Chair of the School Committee, is authorized to borrow said amount under M.G.L. c. 71, §16(d), or pursuant to any other enabling authority, and to issue bonds or notes of the District therefor. Any premium received upon the sale of any bonds or notes approved by this vote, less any such premium applied to the payment of the costs of issuance of such bonds or notes, may be applied to the payment of costs approved by this vote in accordance with Chapter 44, Section 20 of the General Laws, thereby reducing the amount authorized to be borrowed to pay such costs by a like amount. In the event that the Committee should determine, on or before January 16, 2023 that at least $2,200,000 has been raised through other sources, including but not limited to, Community Preservation Act Funds contributed by member towns of the District, American Rescue Plan Act funds, grants from the Commonwealth or from any other sources whatsoever, then the amount authorized to be borrowed by this vote shall be applied, instead, to pay costs of relocating the track to a north/south orientation with a synthetic  playing field interior, relocating the field events area to adjoining field space, improving access to the facility, installing perimeter fencing and pathways systems to provide ADA accessibility to the track facility, new field lighting and irrigation facilities, and for the payment of all other costs incidental and related thereto.

The wording of the motion is confusing, due to legal requirements when a body approves borrowing. It essentially says this:

A. The RSC approves borrowing $1.5 million, which will be the responsibility of the four towns according to a predetermined formula (each town will take on a portion of the debt), for a project to resurface the ARHS track, as well as other improvements such as providing ADA accessibility.

AND

B. If, by January 16, 2023, the district can raise an additional $2.2 million through state, federal, or private grants, private fundraising, or other sources, then that $1.5 million approved for borrowing will be applied to a different/bigger project – to re-orient the track to a north/south orientation, install a synthetic turf playing field, provide ADA accessibility, and other improvements.

The project described in A above is referred to as “option 1” and is the bare minimum that needs to be done to make the track safe and usable. What is described in B above is referred to as “option 3” and is the preferred option of the district and all of the members of the public who submitted public comments via email, voicemail, and in-person last night. However, the price tag of option 3, around $4.7 million, is out of reach. We have received input from our member towns that spending any more than $1.5 million (via borrowing) is not feasible.

At the March 1 RSC meeting, Director of Finance Doug Slaughter put forth the idea to borrow $1.5 million, and come up with the remaining $3.2 million needed for option 3 through a combination of Community Preservation Act funds, private fundraising, and grants such as the American Rescue Plan Act.

Image: Screenshot from March 1 presentation to the RSC on the track project.

This idea is a model/plan for how to fund the project; none of these funds have been committed (or applied for) at this time.

Why Doesn’t The Math Add Up? 
We need to come up with another $3.2 million for option 3, so why does the motion say $2.2 million? The RSC felt that if we fall short of the $3.2 million but get almost all the way there, we would still consider doing option 3, so the $2.2 million figure was used, to give a little flexibility in the fundraising goal.

Essentially, the plan is to borrow $1.5 million (this now needs approval from the legislative bodies in each of the four towns), and embark on a fundraising effort to raise an additional $2.2 million. If that $2.2 million (or more!) is raised by January 16, 2023, then the project will be option 3, the preferred project that gets us the track and field we want and need. If that amount is not raised, then we will proceed with option 1, the smaller and less costly project.

So, the district needs to raise at least $2.2 million in the next nine months. Now, I’m an optimist by nature, but I think it’s important to have realistic expectations here. At the March 1 meeting, the RSC discussed how feasible it is to raise $1 million in private donations. IMHO that is a very tall order! For some reference points:

To me, the scale of raising $2.2 million (or more) in nine months feels insurmountable. But I would love to be proven wrong! I hope that I am proven wrong, and that in January we can celebrate meeting the fundraising goal.


This blog reflects my own views about the Amherst and Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committees – it does not represent the view of the committees, the district, or the superintendent. This blog complies with Open Meeting Law, as long as a quorum of School Committee members do not engage in deliberations in the comments. Comments are welcome. I may respond to comments, but I will not respond to all comments. Sign up here using the “follow blog via email” form to be notified when I post a new entry.  You can email me at jennifer@jenniferamherst.org.

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