TEWKSBURY — 10 neighbors from Munro Circle and the surrounding neighborhoods sat down and met with representatives of the press this week to discuss their concerns with the proposed elementary school building project in Tewksbury.
The abutters stated they were never notified of the project despite the site being feet from their property lines.
“I learned about it when a surveyor came to my house and said he would be walking on my property,” said Donna Haines.
That was in November of 2018. The residents cannot believe they had to learn about the proposed grade 2-4 elementary school, athletic field, lights, concession stand and locker rooms proposed for the back of their yards just by happening upon the information.
“They didn’t do outreach” is the consensus, referring to the School Department and town, asserted Phyllis and Jim Giblin, Sandy and Kevin Morrissey, Mark and Judy Allard, Donna Haines, Gregg Mann, and Paul and Louise Gearty; residents who have lived on or about Munro Circle for 40, 50 and 60 years.
The proposal for an elementary school housing grades 2-4 would place it on Doucette Field next to the Ryan Elementary School at 135 Pleasant St. The building would replace the Trahan and North Street schools, both of which are in need of extensive repair.
The town states that notices were placed in residents’ doors for the first community meeting and notices were mailed for the second community meeting of the Elementary School Building Committee.
The residents have since attended the school department’s public meetings but feel that their concerns about wetlands, water, traffic, Pillsbury Pond and a vernal pool on site were not taken seriously. Several of the residents did not feel that the Elementary School Building Committee was respectful at all to their issues, saying that people were not allowed to ask questions and that project presenters were dismissive.
Gregg Mann observed that some ESBC members were acting as if the project was a “done deal.” The ESBC has conducted over 20 public meetings, presentations and outreach events at Town Hall, the senior center, and in multiple school buildings over the last several months.
Tewksbury Town Manager Richard Montuori has been meeting with the resident group every Friday for the past several months, listening to concerns and discussing project adjustments to alleviate some of the issues, most notably adding extensive stormwater drainage under the field complex and moving some outbuildings.
The proposed athletic field has also been pushed further away from the homes.
“They only acknowledged the vernal pool during a site walk last week,” said Mann, “even though I’ve been telling them about it for four months.”
The Munro Circle residents want it known that they are supportive of the need for a new school, but they are not supportive of the location, nor the athletic field and ring road which would encircle the entire complex, placing morning and afternoon bus and car traffic right outside their kitchen windows. Many residents on Munro Circle have sump pumps and are very concerned about flooding.
“They never gave us a chance for input,” said Mann.
Several residents had maps and pointed to wetland areas and referenced FEMA flood zones.
“We had to buy flood insurance when we moved here,” said Kevin Morrissey and stated that as project drawings were updated, certain wetland features were slowly disappearing from the maps given to the abutters.
“They seemed to make some of the flood plain areas disappear,” said Paul Gearty, using his finger to point out flood zone coloration on a portion of the athletic field map.
A site walk last week with project architects and engineers, along with ESBC members and town officials was enlightening said the residents.
“We learned more last week than we have all through this process,” said Morrissey.
Mann, an engineer, said they would have appreciated if their concerns were acknowledged early on and not “waved” away.
“The groundwater issues are real,” said Haines, a fact that Kevin Allard also noted relative to the development of the Blaire House complex and Marshall Brook which sits on the back side of the Ryan School site off of Newton Avenue.
“There was no study for that project and there are water table issues,” he said.
Louise Gearty said the senior citizens in town can’t afford the increase in taxes that this project will bring and is advocating for people to get informed. While the elementary school portion of the project will be partially reimbursed by the state, the administrative offices, athletic complex and demolition of the Center School will not. The abutters would like a “line item veto” for the project components, a point that Kevin Allard raised.
“I don’t think people realize how much traffic is going to be concentrated in this area,” added Haines.
Kevin Morrissey said “people think that the vote at the ballot on April 7 meant the school was being built, but that’s not the case.”
Phyllis Giblin said “residents should know that their taxes are going to go up; they will have the regular prop 2 ½ increase and then a 6.9 percent increase over that” to pay for the project, starting in 2020 if the school is passed. “Residents need to know this is not a done deal,” said Giblin, adding “they have to vote their conscience.”
Supplemental information from the town for the project, which is available in the annual Town Meeting handout is as follows:
The total project budget is $98.5 million and the Massachusetts School Building Authority will reimburse the town a maximum facility grant of $32,736,619 and the town’s share of the estimated project cost is $65,767,105 million. A breakdown of the town’s estimated project costs are as follows:
Based upon the town borrowing its share of the cost totaling $65,767,105 for 20 years at an interest rate of 4.25 percent and with all town property values and percentages remaining the same (current FY19) and the split at 1.55, the residential tax impact in the first year is estimated to be $445.46 per average home value of $404,963 or $1.10 per/1,000 for Residential Values and $1.92 per/1,000 value for Commercial, Industrial and Personal (CIP) Property Values.
Since this borrowing of funds will have a declining debt service over 20 years the first year estimated tax impact will be the highest. Utilizing the same assumptions above the average residential tax impact over 20 years is estimated to be $349.08 per year.
If approved by Town Meeting, the project schedule is to complete design February 2020, start construction May 2020, complete Phase 1(New Building) and open new school August 2022.
(Source: annual and Special Town Meeting Supplemental Information Handout May 6 and 8, 2019)