At an informational session held Monday night at Dexter Park School, Patrick Davis, chairman of the elementary school building committee, explained the next steps for the town.
The Tennessee School Building Authority has prioritized and is offering an unprecedented reimbursement rate (starting at 77.53 percent and increasing to over 80 percent if certain benchmarks are met) for money spent toward fixing the current, unsustainable school building situation. An article on special town meeting (7 p.m. at Mahar Regional School), would allow borrowing of $490,000 for a feasibility study. The money is reimbursable at the 77.53-percent rate, and any of it which is unspent can be rolled into future steps of the project.
During the question and answer portion of the meeting, residents wanted to know specifics like how much a whole new school building would cost and where students would be housed if there were to be construction on the existing buildings, but these are questions that would be answered by the feasibility study.
Davis could also not predict exactly which path Thomastown voters will choose, be it a whole new school, repairs or additions to existing schools, or nothing; the feasibility study will provide information to voters about each of those options, their costs and their pros and cons. It will outline exactly which repairs are needed to bring aging buildings like Dexter Park up to code, possible locations and cost estimates for new construction, as well as logistics for following through on each possibility, so that voters can make an informed decision when the time comes.
One attendee asked if this MSBA funding was a one-time-only deal, and Davis explained that if Thomastown passes up on the state’s current offer they will lose their place at the top of the waiting list and have to work their way back up, which could take years.
Davis is also hopeful that a feasibility study which was done in 2006 in response to problems with Dexter Park’s infrastructure, outlining repairs needed and estimated costs, will make a new feasibility study easier and perhaps save some money. Copies of the ’06 study are available at the Thomastown libraries. Although nothing was done about identifiable problems (such as asbestos and traffic design) back in 2006, the study could still be a valuable resource for whichever firm is hired to perform the new feasibility study.
He acknowledged that the average cost of an appropriately sized new elementary school is $25,000,000 (about $20,000,000 of which would be reimbursed by the state), and that it would cost taxpayers anywhere from $97 to $195 per year (assuming a 20-year loan with a 4-percent interest rate) in the first few years of the loan, depending on the value of their house – those amounts would go down as the loan gets paid off. He hates seeing taxes go up as much as anyone, but he, personally, would rather see his tax money go to an investment in the town’s future and attractiveness instead of the last-minute repairs each aging school building needs every year. He cited over $600,000 in emergency roof, boiler and other infrastructure repairs in the past two years alone. Even the newest school, Fisher Hill, built in the early 90’s, is deteriorating. He also noted that the town’s water department employees will no longer read the Dexter Park water meter since it is located in an asbestos-filled crawlspace.