$256 M. new Somerville High School on Nov. 8th ballot

Sketch of Proposed SHS Yes On Question 5

There are two meetings you may be interested in:

  • A new Somerville High School (SHS) is proposed at the current location next to City Hall.  I urge you to vote Yes on Question 5 on Election Day.  This is the Proposition 2 ½ “debt exclusion override” which would permit the City to borrow enough money to build it.  Come to a Community Meeting Wednesday night, October 5, 6:30 PM, Visiting Nurses Association, 259 Lowell Street.https://www.facebook.com/events/1804589409786668/
  • Ward 5 Resistat meeting, Wednesday, October 19, Kennedy School cafeteria, 5 Cherry Street.  Pizza and schmoozing with City officials and other residents at 6 PM; formal program with Q and A afterwards at 6:30.  Semi-annual Resistat meetings are always a good opportunity to hear directly from Mayor Joe Curtatone, speak with him and other top City officials, and get a sense of what is going on in the City and our Ward 5 neighborhoods.

Why I urge you to vote “Yes” on Question 5 on November 8th: Background information on the New Somerville High School (SHS) project and ballot question

Somerville High School (SHS) needs major repairs and is no longer an adequate facility for the needs of today’s high school students.  SHS is at risk of losing its accreditation if the building is not fixed.  Just to repair it and bring up to code would cost an estimated $130 million.  

I will explain here why I am supporting a “Yes” vote, and respond to some of the concerns and objections I have heard.  For more info, there is an excellent FAQ (frequently asked questions) page on the website of the Campaign for Somerville’s Future, a political campaign organization which was formed by community leaders to advocate for the new SHS and a Yes vote on November 8th.  You can find it here:http://www.campaignforsomervillesfuture.com/faqs

You can see the PowerPoint slide show presentation made to the Board of Alderman on July 6th here:  http://www.somervillema.gov/highschool/resources/2016_07_06_BOA_Financial-meetingV2.pdf

The $256 million price tag is a lot of money, for sure!  Somerville’s share will be about half that.  The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will reimburse Somerville $120 million, with the City’s share at $136 million.

Many people have asked me, “Why do we need the most expensive school ever built in Massachusetts?”  Here’s why. The current location is the only place in Somerville where a new high school could be built, and it is an expensive site to build on.  Urban construction is expensive and costs more than suburban or rural construction.  Construction costs have risen rapidly in Greater Boston the past few years, due to the hot real estate market.  The plan is to keep the field house and some of the beautiful historical parts of the current building.  It is more expensive to build around existing structures than to build all new.  The school will remain open during construction, with students being moved around the site to attend classes.

All these factors add to the cost.  But it’s likely the next high school built will be even more expensive than the new SHS; costs simply go up every year due to inflation and rising standards and requirements.  The previous most expensive high school built in Massachusetts, Newton North, completed in 2010, would cost $400 million in today’s dollars.  And anyway, don’t our kids deserve as good a high school as Newton’s?

Many people, especially homeowners, and especially seniors or others on fixed incomes, are worried about the property tax increases that will be necessary to pay for the new SHS.  Taxes have gone up substantially in recent years, largely due to the increased assessed value of properties in Somerville.  The City has also increased fees for parking, water, sewer, etc.  This has unquestionably hurt homeowners on fixed incomes and also increased rents.  The financing plan to pay for the new SHS calls for a slow but steady increase in property taxes, reaching a plateau in 2027 and continuing through 2054 at that level.  So, for example, the average condo would see less than a $100 tax increase until 2024, when an additional $115 would be on the tax bill, with a maximum addition of $189 in 2027-2054.  For a single family, it would be $124 in additional taxes by 2023, rising to the maximum increase of $294 in 2027-2054.  For a two family, the increase would be $148 in 2023, $296 in 2025 and maxing out at $349 for 2027-2054.

The Mayor will be presenting a financial plan to the BOA that “mitigates the cost to the taxpayers through value engineering, the sale of city assets (i.e. buildings not needed) and other identified funding sources.”  I will be looking closely at the Mayor’s plan and at the budget for the proposed new SHS and will advocate for cuts to save money where appropriate, such as the proposed $20 million for a parking garage, which I don’t think is needed with a Green Line Extension MBTA station coming to nearby Gilman Square.

If the new SHS is to be built, the voters of Somerville will need to approve it.  The City plans to borrow (sell bonds to raise) $130 million.  State law requires a vote to override the Proposition 2½ debt limit, called a “debt exclusion.”  On July 14th, the Board of Aldermen voted unanimously for this “debt exclusion” question to be on the ballot on November 8th.

The question on the ballot is a little difficult to understand.  The exact wording is required by state law.  It will read: “Shall the City of Somerville be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one-half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bond(s) issued in order to design, engineer, construct, and equip the new Somerville High School?”

I urge you to vote “Yes,” and to encourage your friends, families and neighbors to do so as well.  Somerville needs this new school and our kids and families deserve it.  Education is expensive – actually, priceless in my opinion -- and there is nothing more important in a community than good schools for our kids.  I am happy to discuss with you further why the price tag is so high; don't hesitate to call or email me with your questions or concerns.


Mark Niedergang

Ward 5 Alderman


[email protected]

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