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Selectmen OK ‘place holder’ for school building funds


HARVARD — Several weeks ago, School Committee Chairman Willie Wickman presented to the Board of Selectmen a plan to submit an application to the state School Building Assistance program, although she said the school board had no specific building plans in the offing. But Selectman William Marinelli said enrollment projections included with the application didn’t gibe with the request and asked for more accurate data.

As Wickman explained then, the idea was to submit the SBA application by the July deadline to secure a place in line. The application isn’t binding, she said, and if the “placeholder” number comes up and there’s no project in process, it would be withdrawn.

But she also said a future building project was pretty much a given, either because school population growth outdistances available space or because the elementary school’s long-term viability is questionable. The building has had past problems with mold, and although measures have been taken and the mold is under control, the problem could resurface.

In either or both cases, a new school would be needed and a facilities study committee is looking at options, Wickman said.

At the previous meeting, Marinelli refused to endorse the application without the updated data, which Wickman said she’d ask Superintendent of Schools Thomas Jefferson to provide.

The superintendent presented the data at the July 10 meeting of the selectmen in a 10-page document that includes historic figures over 10 years and projections to 2011-12 for both schools. It also includes comparative data, residential population figures and other pertinent information. Most of the figures came from the New England School Development Council (NESDEC), which Jefferson and Wickman said is a reliable source the Department of Education accepts as accurate.

A summary table of enrollment from 1986 to 2007 includes breakdowns by grade level, school, town residents, school choice students and those attending via Devens contract.

A recent NESDEC report shows variations over a year, October 2006 to April 2007, with a comparison chart.

Jefferson explained that NESDEC projections are developed using a computer model that analyzes community as well as school data, including birth rates, population, migration trends and district retention rates. However, he said small community projections are “typically less reliable” and future development projects in town could impact figures.

Jefferson opined that even in a soft real estate market, Harvard is destined to grow. “Given the appeal of the Harvard public schools, the town is more likely than some communities to have a large influx of families with school age children,” he said.

The Board of Selectmen, with only three of its five members present, voted unanimously to approve the School Committee’s “placeholder” SBA application.

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