In the past week, a group claiming that one new school would solve our dire need for new elementary facilities has emerged, stating that Hunnewell is not needed and should close along with Upham in the interest of saving money for taxpayers.
Anyone who is familiar with both the map of Wellesley and the town’s century-long commitment to neighborhood schools can see why every committee studying our elementary facilities over the past 10 years has unanimously voted that Hunnewell must be rebuilt, given its location as the only school covering the southwest side of town. To do anything else would bring an end to
It is well established that elementary enrollment is in decline. This has been debated and discussed for years, and it is the reason that the School Committee never put forward anything but a consolidation plan. The town is already planning to close the Upham School and redistrict into six schools as part of this project. Building two schools now at Hunnewell and Hardy maintains the neighborhood model, ensures all elementary students are educated in appropriate spaces, and provides long-term flexibility to absorb the ebbs and flows of enrollment. The plan also accounts for future developments in the pipeline, including the apartments at the Wellesley Office Park, 350 units currently under construction.
In fact, given these current and future needs, a No vote on Hunnewell would not result in its immediate closure and redistricting to 5 schools. Rather, the existing Hunnewell would remain open indefinitely to serve students in this outdated building, with the town incurring significant maintenance and repair costs to keep it running.
It is important to note that the tax impact for these projects that is reflected on the town’s tax calculator is for the estimated maximum tax impact for one year only, currently expected for Fiscal Year 2025. The town repays its large debt exclusions using a “level principal” method, meaning the payments start high and decline over time. The town also restructures its debt
when conditions are favorable, as it has in recent years, saving millions for taxpayers. Existing excluded debt for capital investments declines and the payments for them drop every year.
The tax calculator does not show that the high school debt is decreasing at the same time, so the actual impact on tax bills for the Hunnewell and Hardy projects will be progressively softened. In fact, at Town Meeting, Finance Director Sheryl Strother presented estimates that in 10 years, the amount of excluded debt for all projects including Hunnewell and Hardy will roughly equal the current amount of excluded debt.
Given that these schools will be built to last a minimum of 50 years – and likely longer – this is a wise investment in our educational infrastructure, which needs significant further modernization to support our educational programming. More than 90 percent of Town Meeting Members agreed at Special Town Meeting and voted YES for both projects.
Getting to the point where the town is prepared to vote on Tuesday for these two schools has been a very long and difficult process. It is finally time to get this done for our students. We as residents must collectively solve this enormous problem, and put new schools in place by 2024.
Please join me in voting YES for Hunnewell and YES for Hardy on Tuesday.
Former School Committee member and School Building Committee chair