Monomoy Middle School Needs $2.5 Million In Repairs

by William F. Galvin

The Harwich and Chatham select boards agreed last week to place an article on each town’s annual town meeting warrant seeking $2.5 million to replace the siding and trim at the Monomoy Regional Middle School. School officials said the repairs are necessary to prevent water and moisture damage to the structure, located on Crowell Road in Chatham.

The overall cost of the work will be apportioned based on the current foundation enrollment in the school district, with Harwich covering 76.8 percent and Chatham at 23.2 percent. The $2.5 million will be borrowed over 20 years, and while Chatham will cover its annual share of the payments in the school budget beginning with the next fiscal year, the Harwich Select Board voted to make its payments subject to a debt exclusion vote at this year’s town election.

School district business manager Michael MacMillan told the Harwich Select Board on March 19 that the need to replace siding, trim and wrapping on the middle school is a priority. There is evidence of water infiltration into the building which is causing air quality problems inside, he said.

MacMillan said ad hoc repairs are costly, would have limited impact and would cost the district as much as the debt payments on the cost of addressing the whole project at once. The plan, he said, is to install high-quality waterproof building wrap and new weather-resilient trim and siding on the school.

The school district’s proposed fiscal 2025 budget assessment includes the first year’s debt payment. If the voters don’t approve the project, the funds could be used for intermediate repairs to siding and trim, he said.

The town meeting articles approving issuing the debt require a simple majority to pass. Chatham will cover its share through the regular school budget, but the Harwich board suggested that the town might want to cover its share through a debt exclusion.

“Chatham is footing only 25 percent of it,” said Select Board member Donald Howell. “Our number is much higher.” He said he does not want to start funding capital projects out of the town budget and he would rather hold a debt exclusion through an article and ballot question to provide transparency.

There is a four-step process for issuing regional school debt, MacMillan said. First the school committee issues its approval, then notifications are given to the two select boards, who have 60 days to reject the funding request. The final step is a town meeting vote in each community. He said he was looking for the board’s support. The decision on whether to seek a debt exclusion could be made later, he said.

Harwich Select Board member Michael MacAskill asked what would happen if the debt exclusion question failed at town meeting or at the ballot.

MacMillan said the school district would not be able to spend the money included in the fiscal 2025 budget. The money would go into a reserve account and could be returned to the town. MacMillan said $250,000 was placed in the budget, with Harwich’s share $192,000 and Chatham’s about $50,000.

Select Board member Jeffrey Handler asked if there were any other sizable school capital projects in need of addressing over the next several years.

The district has a capital plan outlining the needs, MacMillan said. The middle school needs a new roof, although he told the Chatham board that it is in better condition than the siding and trim. The district has applied for funding to replace the roof through the Massachusetts School Building Authority assistance program. He also said the Harwich Elementary School will need a boiler replacement. One hundred percent of the cost will be absorbed by Harwich, he said. Chatham is also paying the cost to replace the roof at Chatham Elementary School.

“I support it,” MacAskill said of the siding and trim replacement. “I’d hate to see history repeat itself and we not maintain things so we have to tear them down and then rebuild them.”

Pointing out that a debt exclusion bond would be for 20 years, Howell asked if the middle school building would still be operational in 20 years. MacMillan assured him that the building is in good shape and would still be in use in 20 years.

On a 4-0 vote, the Harwich Select Board agreed to place an article approving the debt on the town meeting warrant, contingent upon approval of a debt exclusion ballot question. While funding for the project will be through the school district, a Harwich debt exclusion would be necessary to cover its share of the cost of the project.

Given the cost to Harwich for this project, board members wanted to resume discussions underway last fall to meet with the Chatham Select Board to examine the MRSD regional agreement’s provisions for apportioning funding to each of the towns based on the foundation enrollment. Howell said the board should plan to have those discussions as soon as town meeting concludes in May.