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MSBA says yes to school plan

Middle/high school project heads to Council for Feb. 8 vote

Scott Lazo (click for larger version)
January 28, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — The Mass. School Building Authority unanimously approved the plans for a new $76.52 million middle/high school in Southbridge Wednesday morning, pledging to pay 80 percent of the bill.

"I looked at it and said, 'Wow — the money we're getting for this project,'" said School Building Committee Chairman Scott Lazo. " This opportunity is not going to come again. It's the biggest municipal project in our lifetimes."

Specifically, the MSBA is committing a maximum of $53,757,038 to build the school, with the actual figure depending on how high the construction bids are. That number is actually 70.25 percent of the total cost, but MSBA specifically excludes certain things from its calculations — among them, lights for the playing fields, infrastructure improvements getting to the site, and certain things within the building.

Most of those concerns were ironed out behind the scenes in meetings between Southbridge officials and an MSBA subcommittee, according to MSBA spokesman Emily Mahlman. She described that process as "one of the first instances" of a system the agency plans to use for future projects.

Mahlman said the state will pay its share on a "pay-as-you-go systems," meaning the district will submit its invoices as it gets them from various contractors, MSBA audits them and pays within 15 days. Because of that system, she said, towns don't have to get bonds for the state's share, although they do have to authorize borrowing for it.

In Southbridge's case, the Town Council plans to vote on the project Feb. 8, after Lazo and others give them an updated presentation. Town Manager Chris Clark has already indicated he'll be seeking four votes — for the project itself, the borrowing authorization, to hire a "construction manager at risk" as overseer, and to seek special legislation under the Qualified Bonds Act to extend the bonding period to 30 years instead of 25.

See Friday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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