HARVARD — Visionary plans and preliminary designs the Cable Committee presented to the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night would transform an unused basement area at The Bromfield School into studio space and further its public access mission, which includes education.
Bounced from pillar to post for years and currently housed at the old library, the cable group needs a place to settle down and this one meets most of their needs and objectives, members said.
“We haven’t had a permanent home,” Cable Committee member Stu Sklar explained, with equipment stored here and there and sound and space issues that make the old library less than ideal as a studio.
Not only is the allotted space too small and often too noisy for program production, there’s only one workstation for training and the basement rooms in the antique building are not quiet enough for editing or recording, either. Any activity on the floor above translates to distracting creaks and groans below, he said. “Its too loud.”
“We need your support for the plan, which the School Committee is fully on board with,” Sklar told the board.
School Committee member Kristen Wright enthusiastically backed his assertion, calling the proposed move an “exciting opportunity” for the committee and Bromfield students.
Working as a volunteer with a small group on their senior project last May, Wright got a first hand look at the cable-school connection and how valuable it is to students, she said.
The three young men presented their “authentic” Cable Committee experiences” in terms of helping the community “in a real way,” Wright said, from filming local events to editing and other technical aspects of the job. Asked what they’d change if they could, the Bromfield seniors said they wished the cable space was more accessible. “Clearly, the Cable Committee needs a home to work in,” Wright said. “We see this as a really important part” of school programming.
Cable Committee member Jonathan Williams also stressed the vocational value of the school-cable partnership, from community connections to real world know-how. “The kids can get hands on learning experience” they can use in the future, he said, especially those students who may not be college bound.
Collaborative, connected, community-oriented, accessible to staff and students, proponents characterized the plan as a win/win. The selectmen didn’t disagree with the philosophy, but some practical aspects raised questions and the cost raised eyebrows.
“I gasp at the price,” Selectman Marie Sobalvarro said, perhaps referencing in particular the $69,000 price tag for interior fit-up that the group assigned to the selectmen, hoping to target the Rantoul Trust Fund.
Selectmen have sole control of the fund, and, apparently, broad discretionary power. According to Town Administrator Tim Bragan, the board can use the Rantoul Trust for any public purpose as they see fit. The balance, according to the Cable Committee, is $216,000.
Other estimated costs include $39,000 for exterior site work, Framed as a capital request for fiscal 2014, the committee said that’s the only amount that would come directly from taxpayers. $87,000 for station equipment and hookup would be drawn from reserves and revenue. An estimated annual cost of $4,500, the group hopes to get from gifts and grants, including the Harvard Schools Trust and the PTO.
Sobalvarro indicated that wherever it comes from, the plan calls for a lot of money. “Surely soundproofing the old library would be cheaper,” she said.
Chairman Lucy Wallace questioned the plan’s suggested 69/39 percentage split, which divides total costs between the schools and town government, with the heftiest burden on the town side.
But Selectman Bill Johnson later pointed out there’s another way to look at it.
“One way, is we’re fixing up space in the school, he said. “Another (view) is that the school is providing 1,700 square-feet for this purpose,” while adding that amount of space anyplace else would cost a lot more.
Sklar said suggested cost assignments were based on available funding sources.
“If Town Meeting says no, then what?” Selectman Tim Clark asked.
Sklar said that’s one of the reasons he’d rather target trust funds — such as the school’s Shaw Trust — than go to the CPIC for funding.
Clark said he had a list of questions that he would forward later, lacking “the fullness of time” to air them all then and there. “I support the notion” that the facility “belongs at Bromfield,” he said, and that there should be more public access to Cable Committee services. “But I have concerns about using the Rantoul Trust.”
Also, when a Memorandum of Understanding is drafted, specifying roles and responsibilities involved in the shared set-up, Clark said it should include a sketch of who owns what and provisions for dividing assets “in case of divorce.”
“A lot of hard work went into this…” commented Selectman Ron Ricci. “I’m supportive, but I think there are things to work out.” Which was how they left it. No votes, no decisions. Everyone agreed the plan, despite its level of detail, is still a work in progress.