School Building FAQs
Why are the middle and high school buildings in such bad shape?
The high school is more than 60 years old, and middle school is more than 50 years old. Both buildings have surpassed their life expectancy. These buildings are used by hundreds of students and educators every day, and are decaying in many areas. HVAC and electrical systems are maxed out and in imminent danger of failing. The walls lack proper insulation, and deteriorating water mains and roofs are prone to breaches and breaks.
Visiting sports teams mock our players on the field over the condition of the athletic facilities. The high school gymnasium is too small by modern standards to host any playoff games.
This isn’t a case of poor facilities management. School equipment is so old that replacement parts are cost-prohibitive or don't exist. In short, the basic infrastructure cannot accommodate present or future academic, technological and athletic needs. Historically, Pentucket schools have been synonymous with top-notch education and rankings, but today, we are sending our students into an outdated and deteriorating learning environment. Learn more about the condition of the schools.
Why is building a brand-new school less expensive than repairing it?
Pentucket High School was among 96 competing districts chosen by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to receive funding toward the renovation or replacement of the existing building(s). This is a rare opportunity and privilege. The largest amount of funding (40 percent, or about $60 million!) would come with the design and construction of a combined middle/high school, greatly decreasing the burden on taxpayers. Under the proposed plan, taking advantage of MSBA funding prevents our communities from having to completely cover the looming cost (estimated at $41.7 million) of a new middle school in the coming years. Learn more about construction costs.
In addition, the mechanical systems mentioned in question #1 above have surpassed or are approaching their life expectancy. Replacing and/or upgrading these systems within aging and energy-inefficient buildings would be like putting a new engine and transmission in a car that is falling apart.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE WAIT TO ADDRESS THE DECLINING FACILITIES?
If the three towns vote down this ballot measure (via a “No” vote) …
We walk away from millions in MSBA funding (see previous question)
The burden of any repairs, renovations or construction will fall entirely on our communities
3.5 years of collaborative research and planning becomes invalid
Additionally, should we seek MSBA assistance in the future, PRSD would be moved to the “back of the line,” forced to compete once again with dozens of other schools vying for funding. This process would take several more years, and there is no guarantee that the MSBA would again choose us. PRSD, nor that the Building Authority would reimburse future projects at the generous 40 percent rate presently available. (In fact, it is expected to decrease to as low as 20 percent.)
Although harder to predict, another problem resultant of substandard educational facilities is that they often fail to retain or attract the best educators and administrators. By ignoring the condition of our buildings, we risk losing and/or recruiting exemplary personnel.
who decided which design plan should go to voters?
The Building Committee and the School Committee weighed information and feedback from architectural firm Dore & Whittier, as well as members of the Pentucket community. Information and feedback was gathered and disseminated via meetings, workshops, discussions, online forums, and surveys throughout 2017-2018. The committees selected the plan that is most fiscally responsible, provides the most long-term benefits, and offers the best resources for students and educators. You can learn more at the Building Committee website, where you can view video footage and presentation slides from the past year’s meetings.
Is it a good idea to combine middle and high schoolers in the same building?
Yes. Combining the middle school and the high school project is the most fiscally responsible option, and provides for the present and future needs of our students and educators. While the schools would still operate as separate entities, a single structure offers more opportunities for shared educational experiences and enhanced site amenities. Students who participate in programs that require walking between buildings will no longer have to migrate across campus. A combined school would also make for a more cooperative and streamlined curriculum for grades 7-12.
How will construction impact students?
New construction will be less disruptive than renovation. Typically, building new facilities requires two years of construction, with an additional six months to phase out old facilities. A renovation option would have added approximately one more year on top of that to the construction timeframe. A more detailed construction phase plan will be developed during the next design phase in January.
How will the design plan impact the athletic fields at the district campus?
The proposed plan eliminates the athletic fields behind the existing high school, as the new school building would be constructed in that space. The only other change to the athletic fields would be the addition of a new multi-purpose artificial turf field in the space where the middle school currently stands.
When does this ballot question go to voters?
Residents will vote whether to put this question on the spring ballot at town meetings in Merrimac, Groveland and West Newbury in April 2019. A majority vote is required. Should the question move to the ballot, residents of all three towns will vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on funding the project at the polls in May 2019. A simple majority vote in each of the three towns is needed to approve funding and move forward.
How does this project impact my property taxes?
Annual property taxes will see an upswing, but so will the value of your property (see below). Tax impact estimates are based on average home values, and are also impacted by the number of students enrolled from each town. See a thorough breakdown of project costs to voters.
How does this project improve my property value?
Exponentially. According to a 2013 study by national realty brokerage Redfin, “Housing prices in the zones of highly ranked public schools are remarkably higher than those served by lower ranked schools.” The Redfin study also concluded that “on average, people pay $50 more per square foot for homes in top-ranked school zones compared with homes served by average-ranked schools.” See the complete study.
Has the public had any input on this?
Yes, dating back to January 2016, several public meetings and “Thought Exchanges” (online forums) have been held at locations in all three communities. Attendees have had the opportunity to voice questions, concerns and suggestions related to the building project. At the most recent meeting, which took place July 24, 2018, exit surveys allowed participants to provide direct feedback to the building committee regarding preferred design(s) and method(s) for remediation. You can view video footage and presentation slides from the past year’s meetings at the Building Committee website.
How does our high school compare to others on the North Shore?
Of the 12 schools in the Cape Ann League (CAL), Pentucket High School is the only facility that hasn’t seen a major renovation in the last decade. Pentucket High School is also among the oldest of all the school buildings in the CAL.
Special thanks to our volunteer FAQ writers/researchers:
Bryon Rivers (West Newbury) and Julie Wisniewski (Merrimac).