The handout provided by the Belmont School Department to the School Committee at its weekly Tuesday meeting, Jan. 31, was the standard request for capital improvements for the coming fiscal year, a "wish list" document of 23 proposed projects to be presented to the Capital Budget Committee for review.
There is $60,000 for the third-phase of network switching equipment, a pickup truck for $30,000, replace the interior corridor fire doors at the High School pegged at $40,000 and $79,579,984 for the renovation of Belmont High School.
Come again? What's that about renovating the high school and for how much?
In reality, the nearly $80 million in "capital need" in the document has everything to do with the future than the here and now, according to the school committee and department officials.
According to School Committee Chairwoman Laurie Graham, it is no secret that the 42-year-old high school is in need of improvement as indicated by consecutive state accreditation reviews by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) which have been highly critical of the existing physical plant.
A decade ago, in 2002, the NEASC flagged the high school for "growing physical deficiencies" that was affecting learning and teaching.
With that in mind, the School Department has resubmitted a statement of interest with the Massachusetts School Building Authority – the quasi-independent governmental authority that provided $12.5 million in funding for the construction of the $39 million Wellington Elementary School – that the department wants to be "in the conversation" when the MSBA begins its next round of reviews, said Graham.
On the back burner
"We are interested in doing something at the high school and we want to keep this alive but everyone should know that this is on the back burner," said Graham after the meeting.
Graham said that the amount in the document is the value of 200,000 square-foot building "but that doesn't mean that we are even considering spending that much."
Before any funding would be considered, the MSBA will come and conduct a site review at the school at which time they will determine what the state believes would be the most prudent action to take.
Under consideration will be the creation of a new science wing, renovating the building, committing to a gut-rehab of the structure or go with a complete tear down and construct a new school.
But Belmont isn't at that stage of the process, said Graham.
But School Committee member Dan Scharfman called into question capital repairs to the high school, such as $150,000 for the replacement of the gymnasium floor, if the school is to be renovated in the near future.
"Yes, it may be necessary" to replace the existing vinyl floor that is considered barely suitable for games, "or can we wait and preserve the funds" and use them elsewhere," Scharfman said.
In the end, the capital budget request totaling $1,810,000 was conditionally approved, along with the note concerning a $80 million renovation.