Citing cost estimates, Mansfield’s finance director told the town council Monday [Aug. 23] that building two elementary schools would be the most expensive of the town’s three options for a school project.
The council also learned Monday that a site in the northern part of town hasn’t been located, should the council go with a two-school option, but the town does have some potential locations.
The council had its first of what is likely to be a series of workshops to discuss this topic.
With questions about whether the town should renovate all its existing schools, build one large elementary school or opt for two smaller elementary schools, the council agreed in July it is not ready to send a proposal to a referendum in November.
Mansfield Finance Director Cherie Trahan told the council Monday the town currently has a strong rating for any bonding it would need for the project, but there are many issues considered before issuing a new rating.
Moody’s Investing Services, a New York company conducting financial research for private companies and government entities, rates Mansfield A2, the firm’s third-highest rating.
A bond rating affects a town’s ability to get bonding, as well as the financing rate for any bonds, and Trahan said Mansfield has a good history of managing its budget, specifically its debt obligations.
But she also noted Mansfield relies more on Payments In Lieu of Taxes – or PILOT – funds for state-owned land, so the town’s rating is affected in part by the state’s financial standing.
Trahan also said the rating will depend on the town’s willingness to pay, which includes referendum results as a measure of support from taxpayers.
The highest impact
Trahan provided an estimated mill rate increase for each of the projects based on current assessments and said an option to build two new schools and renovate Mansfield Middle School would have the highest impact on taxes.
The current estimate for the project puts the cost at roughly $59.58 million.
The state would reimburse an estimated 54.9 percent of the cost, leaving the town to cover $26.9 million.
Trahan said the project currently would account for an additional 1.69 mills.
The lowest impact
The option with the lowest impact, currently, would be to build one elementary school and renovate MMS, at a recent estimated cost of $19 million to the town.
Trahan said that option would have a tax impact of 0.69 mills.
The council could also opt to simply renovate or repair each of the three existing schools and MMS, and projections for a scaled-down project estimate a cost of roughly $20 million to the town.
Trahan said that option would have a tax impact of an additional 0.73 mills.
Council member Toni Moran and others said they need to re-examine costs associated with renovating all the schools.
School officials, though, asked the council for guidance – either on goals for the project or on a cost figure – to know what changes they can make to any of the proposals.
Southeast School site
Mansfield Planning Director Greg Padick, meanwhile, said the town could use Southeast School, located on Route 89, if it wanted to build either one or two schools.
He said the site has enough space to allow a new building project while students are in session.
Padick said the property for Annie E. Vinton School – on Route 32 near the intersection of Route 31 – also has enough acreage to continue classes while building, if the town opts for two schools.
But he also noted both schools are in the southern part of town, so that would leave the town with no school on the northern side if it chooses two schools.
He said the Dorothy C. Goodwin School property on Hunting Lodge Road does not have enough space to allow for both ongoing classes and new construction.
The town could purchase some adjacent properties to acquire enough space or look at other sites on the northern side of town.
But Padick said land-use officials are waiting on guidance from the council before they examine any possible sites further.
These include at the intersection of routes 44 and 195 – also known as Four Corners – or a site in the “downtown” Storrs area.
“There are more options to be pursued, we just haven’t gotten into the details without more direction from the council,” Padick said.
Some issues that would need to be considered include ease of access for residents and the handling of sewage, among others, before identifying a possible site.
Posted Aug. 24, 2010