Depending on whether the Town of Burlington chooses to replace only the Fox Hill Elementary School, replace both Fox Hill and Pine Glen Elementary School, or combine the two schools into one larger school, residential tax bills could go up by anywhere from $144 to $365, according to an analysis by Ways and Means Committee Chair John Iler.
The analysis is not fully vetted and is not a complete picture of the possibilities, Iler said, but is meant to provide some context as the town considers the futures of the two schools.
If the town were to replace only Fox Hill, leaving Pine Glen as it is, the project could cost about $70 million, with the Massachusetts School Building Authority contributing about 25 percent of the cost. A bond of about $52 million at a cost of $3.2 million per year and a residential tax cost of about $144 per year for an average single-family household.
“I won’t call it a tax increase because other things may be coming off the tax schedule,” Iler said.
Replacing Fox Hill and Pine Glen with a “mega-school,” at a total project cost of about $134 million, could mean a tax cost of about $283.
And a third option considered, replacing both Fox Hill and Pine Glen on their current sites, would cost about $150 million total, at a tax cost of $365 per household. In that scenario, the MSBA would only cover $25 percent of the cost of Fox Hill, leaving the town to cover the full cost of replacing Pine Glen.
“The cost of doing a single 640-student school versus two 325-student schools, which is roughly the same amount of students, the incremental cost in terms of present value is about $58 per household,” Iler said. “So that could be perceived as a very large delta, and disqualifying, or it could be perceived as, ‘Gee, that’s not very much more as we would have imagined to have the perceived benefits of the two separate schools.’”
Some School Committee members disagreed with the assessment.
“I take exception to this because it’s information presented without very little context,” said committee member Jeremy Brooks. “It’s going to create a vacuum where people will fill that in with a lot of assumptions.”
School Committee Chair Martha Simon emphasized that the School Committee has hired consultants and designers to come up with more formal numbers around the various options, and would like to wait for those estimates. “I don’t know if we want to have rough order of magnitude numbers floating around without supporting documentation,” she said. “I know people are frustrated and want to know how much this is going to cost us and how are we going to pay for it; those are really important things that we as the school committee and the school building committee need to work with the town to figure out how it’s going to be financed. But I am concerned that we got these numbers that you just put out, that these are assumptions, and with some of these numbers, there’s not a lot of science in this.”
Iler disagreed, saying the mistake was going this long without considering project costs.
The considerations did not consider the operating costs of the two schools.
Residents in the Pine Glen and Fox Hill communities have sounded the alarm recently as the Fox Hill School Building committee has considered various options that involve combining the two elementary schools into one larger school as part of the MSBA’s requirements for upgrading Fox Hill.
Parents and neighbors have worried about additional traffic and safety issues at Fox Hill and potentially negative educational outcomes associated with a bigger school. School Building Committee Chair Melissa Massardo has said that no decision has been made at this time.
All three options significantly increase the town’s debt service: Upcoming and expected bonds include a new police station at about $30 million and multiple water system improvements at a combined $29.5 million.
“The point is, in terms of other bonded projects that we have coming up, this is on the order of three times as large as some of the other things we’re looking at,” Iler said.