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Posted on: November 29, 2023

Proposed Whittier School Building Project: Questions Proposed at Tri-Board Meeting November 14, 2023

Ipswich Questions:

 1. What has been the % acceptance rate for Ipswich applicants, and how does this compare with other localities?

Admissions Answers to Tri Board Meeting





Question 1







Ipswich

Received

Waitlisted

Accepted

All enrolled

Ipswich Acceptance Rate

District OVERALL ACCEPTANCE RATE

2023-2024

13

6

7

27

53.80%

53.46%

2022-2023

24

9

15

30

62.50%

51.58%

2021-2022

11

3

8

24

72.70%

67.64%

2020-2021

13

3

10

28

76.92%

66.27%

2019-2020

7

N/A

5

22

71.42%

79.47%

This was the acceptance rate for students in the 8th grade going into the 9th grade.  It is important to note that students are also accepted mid-way through the 9th grade, beginning of 10th grade, and beginning of 11th grade.  Students interested in attending Whittier Tech have at least 4 chances to attend WT.  The District will work with any student and parent/guardian to help them attend WT.  The District is also offering a Senior Exploratory Program for Ipswich High School students completing their senior year who do not have any graduation plans but may be interested in a trade.  Once students complete this program, they have the opportunity to enroll in the state funded Career Institutes that provide 200 hours of vocational training in the summer in 8 vocational areas.

2. Did WT have a role in allocating the MSBA funding across the localities?  If so, what is its formula?  If not, what is the MSBA’s formula?

MSBA funding, or reimbursement, is provided to Whittier Tech.  Please find the two links below if you are interested in how the MSBA determines a reimbursement rate.

https://link.cumulusglobal.com/u/47e9b236/ZrJBQD2N7hG5IKvWhnsoMg?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.massschoolbuildings.org%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fedit-contentfiles%2FDocuments%2FGuidelines_Policies%2FReimbursement-Rate-Calculation-UPDATE.pdf

https://link.cumulusglobal.com/u/61ae7353/ostBQD2N7hGye6vWhnsoMg?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.massschoolbuildings.org%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fedit-contentfiles%2FDocuments%2FGuidelines_Policies%2FReimbursement_Rate_Policy_2_9_11.pdf 

Also, please see slides 4 and 5 from the October 24, 2023, building committee meeting, which can be assessed through the project website.

https://link.cumulusglobal.com/u/d145079d/CuFBQD2N7hGeH6vWhnsoMg?u=https%3A%2F%2Fbuildingthefutureofwhittier.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2Fsites%2F20%2F2023%2F10%2F20231024_Committee-Meeting_v5_final-for-posting.pdf

The MSBA provides reimbursement on eligible items at a state-determined rate to the Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School District.  The District subtracts the value of this reimbursement from the total project cost.  The remaining costs are assigned to each district community as per the capital assessment formula in the WT Regional School Charter.

3. What aspects of the project comprise the $175 million in costs ineligible for MSBA assistance? 

A Regional Vocational School's MSBA reimbursement is no different than that of an Elementary School.  

Because Whittier Tech is its own District - District offices need to be included in the design of the building.  Superintendent, Business Manager, Vocational Coordinator,

Curriculum Coordinator, Director of Guidance, SRO, Security Manager, Attendance Office, Teacher Coach Office, ISS, and IT Workroom are all necessary for Whittier Tech to operate.  The MSBA has elected not to reimburse for costs related to District Administration. 

Other:

  • Legal costs are ineligible.
  • A portion of OPM services are ineligible.
  • A portion of Designer services are ineligible.
  • The MSBA caps its reimbursement of construction costs.  The current cap is reimbursing 61.39% of $550/SF.  The project’s future construction costs are estimated to be $945/SF.  This cap takes $100M off the table that would otherwise be eligible for reimbursement.   
  • Abatement related to flooring and ceiling finishes.
  • Outbuildings such as the wastewater treatment plant, bus & maintenance garage, salt shed, and guard shack are examples of other ineligible costs.
  • Swing and moving space.
  • Furniture, equipment, and technology beyond MSBA’s cap.(again the MSBA cap is the same for vocational school as an elementary school)

4. Does WT have flexibility in the schedule for seeking final MSBA approval, which determines the period for voting in the district?  If it pursues MSBA approval in December, as originally planned, can WT schedule a vote later than the standard 120 day period, including seeking a delay from MSBA if needed? 

The date of January 23, 2024, was established during the meeting held with all member community clerks on August 9, 2023.  This date was established to allow communities ample time to prepare their annual budgets with knowledge of how WT might impact future planning.  An extension would have to be granted through MSBA to schedule the vote later.  However, MSBA’s written stance is “The 120-day deadline exists to ensure that MSBA’s limited capital funds are directed toward Districts who are ready and able to make the necessary commitment to move forward in a timely manner.  Therefore, the MSBA will carefully review extension requests and will only allow extensions beyond a few weeks for unusual circumstances”.  

5. We request a copy of the full consultant report on the financing costs and allocations among all communities.  Without this report we are unable to determine how costs were estimated and allocated.  

[Click for} An attached copy of the report [PDF] prepared by Hilltop Securities.

6. Why the lack of inclusion during the planning and evaluation process of the need for a new building as well as the process for approval?  Why the date, why the time?  What’s the outreach plans to notify voters?

WT began the process of informing the 11 cities and towns about a possible construction School building project in 2016 when the District asked to open up a stabilization account for future capital needs.  The District has continually informed Mayors, Town Managers, and Finance Directors throughout the process.  All of our meetings have been posted and shared on the Whittier Tech School Website and the Building Project Website.  Mr. Garry James has been a part of the School Building Committee and currently serves as the Chairman of the Whittier Tech School Committee.  He does not miss a meeting and has been very involved in the process. Moving forward, it would be helpful to set up regular meetings with the Town of Ipswich to ensure everyone is informed of WT’s capital needs and operating budget.

We have had 5 Community Forums at Whittier Tech.  We will have at least one more on January 13th from 9-11 with a tour of our facility.  We feel that it is very important for people to see what is going on “behind our walls” to truly see the issues that need to be addressed at Whittier Tech. 

7. How many students have considered a Whittier education and are discouraged or withdrawn after starting at the unreasonable hour of the commutes early am and late pm bus rides?  What transportation arrangements are made to allow for those that want to participate in after school activities?  Does this discourage or even prohibit participation and the overall education opportunities available at Whittier?

We are not aware of any students who have been discouraged or have withdrawn from Whittier Tech due to the commute.  We encourage all students to participate in extracurricular activities, and all students are provided transportation regardless of where they live in the district. 

8. What educational opportunities are not offered at Whittier but are at Essex tech which a greater number of students from Ipswich attend?  Is this similar trend in other towns?

WT offers 23 vocational programs.  Students can attend Essex Tech if they are interested in their Agricultural Programs or if ENSATs has a program that WT does not offer. 

9. How and should the cost formulas be changed to reflect a more equitable distribution?

Not clear what is being asked.  The Regional Agreement determines how the Capital Costs are distributed throughout the 11 cities and towns that make up WT.  As the regional agreement stands, no one community in the district has a larger financial burden than another, and all benefit from the workforce that WT is providing.

10. What are the formulas used by other multi-jurisdictional technical school costs share among participants?  Is the Whittier model unique?

All Regional Vocational Schools have differing Regional Agreements.  It seems that The WT model shares the Capital Costs throughout 11 cities and towns relatively evenly so no one town/city has a larger burden than the other.  It allows all students in each city/town the ability to benefit from a vocational education.

11. Why wasn’t this project on any communities' five year capital plan?

Not sure why it wasn’t on anyone’s capital plan.  The District has been sharing information regarding the building project since we were accepted into eligibility with

MSBA.  Again, this happened right before Covid, and there may have been other priorities cities and towns were dealing with at the time.  The information was shared by WT to all municipalities that make up the WT District as soon as it was available.

12. Why did Whittier leadership wait until only a few months before the vote to conduct a town hall tour?

At the end of September, when Schematic Design was complete, we began reaching out to our communities.  At that point, we had estimated costs, designs, and renderings for a new building.  It would have been difficult to have any town tours without the costs to each community and the design of the building.

13. What are the five leading cost drivers of the project and can they be mitigated or lowered in any way?

There are not necessarily “five” cost drivers of the Project.  However, the major cost driver on any project is square footage.  The total square footage of the design is roughly 381,000 square feet.  The square footage of the design is based on the educational program developed in conjunction with and approved by the MSBA and DESE.  Another factor is the unprecedented rise in construction costs from 2021.  Also to note is the building committee accepted roughly $9.8 million in cost reduction opportunities.  For a breakdown, please refer to slide 8 from the October 24, 2023, building committee meeting, accessed through the project website.

https://link.cumulusglobal.com/u/d145079d/CuFBQD2N7hGeH6vWhnsoMg?u=https%3A%2F%2Fbuildingthefutureofwhittier.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2Fsites%2F20%2F2023%2F10%2F20231024_Committee-Meeting_v5_final-for-posting.pdf

14. If the vote fails, next steps?

If the vote fails, WT will immediately have to address the Wastewater Treatment Facility and move to installing a sprinkler suppression system.  These two things are our highest priority.  This would then force the district to be fully code and ADA-compliant.  Our estimates are that this would cost the 11 cities and towns almost 100 Million more dollars for a code upgrade.  WT is in a position where MSBA is providing the district with $161.1 million dollars in reimbursement.  If the vote fails, the district will not be able to access any of those funds and would be responsible for the full upgrade. 

15. Can more lobbying of the state produce additional funding to offset cost?

Since we met with Ipswich Tri-Board there has been an increase in MSBA reimbursement of roughly $34.5 million.  The District, along with the legislative delegation, continues to discuss ways to ease the burdens on our communities.  The District is committed to continuing to find ways to seek more funding.

16. Can you talk about how the design process was done and any efforts to reduce the scope and costs of the project?

The school building committee accepted roughly $9.8 million in cost reduction opportunities.  For a breakdown of this, please refer to slide 9 from the October 24, 2023, building committee meeting accessed through the project website.  

https://link.cumulusglobal.com/u/d145079d/CuFBQD2N7hGeH6vWhnsoMg?u=https%3A%2F%2Fbuildingthefutureofwhittier.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2Fsites%2F20%2F2023%2F10%2F20231024_Committee-Meeting_v5_final-for-posting.pdf

17. Does Whittier accept out of district students and if so, how many? 

WT does not accept out of district students.

18. How many Ipswich students have applied to attend Whittier over the past four years and how many were accepted?

Please refer to question #1 for this information.

19. If the project is approved and constructed, how can we ensure a higher percentage of Ipswich students are admitted?

The Regional Agreement does not address enrollment.  That being said, the District will work with any student/family that wants to pursue a vocational education.  We offer admissions at the end of 8th grade, mid-way through 9th grade, beginning of 10th grade, and beginning of 11th grade.

 We also offer a senior exploratory program to all district high schools for students interested in pursuing a trade upon graduation.

 The district also offers adult evening training programs for over 400 adult students.

20. The Regional District has an MSBA reimbursement rate of 61.39%, but the net reimbursement rate for the project is approximately 28.95%. Can you explain why this differential is so great? 

The reimbursement rate for the Project is 61.39% of eligible costs. Please note that not all costs are eligible. In addition, even costs deemed eligible are subject to eligibility limits or caps. This is not unique to Whittier Tech; this is applied to all MSBA-funded projects. Your reference to the net reimbursement was correct at one time. However, the MSBA recently voted to increase the limits on certain eligible costs at their October 25, 2023, board of directors meeting. The net result increased the net reimbursement to roughly 36.35%. Please see the attached document for further detail. 

Can you provide more insight into the total estimated costs which are ineligible for MSBA reimbursement? Please see the attached document for further detail also refer to question #3.

21. There have been at least two recent MSBA project for new vocational high schools. Bristol-Plymouth Regional Tech. approved a new school for 1,400 students in March 2022 for $305.5M. Last month, Tri-County Regional approved a $286M school for approximately 1,000 students. How can we reconcile these costs with the construction budget for this school project?

It is difficult to compare one vocational school to another for the following reasons: 

  • Differing site conditions such as topography, site constraints, site permitting, and wetland constraints; 
  • The use of differing mechanical building systems: some systems have a higher upfront capital cost yet provide substantial state and federal rebates and will provide more efficient energy usage, less maintenance, lower replacement costs, and lower yearly utility costs, while other mechanical systems have a lower capital cost, yet will not receive state or federal rebates, have higher maintenance costs, higher replacement costs, and higher yearly utility costs;
  • Abatement and demolition costs can vary tremendously; 
  • Knowledge of reuse of existing voc-tech equipment is unknown; and
  • Vocational programs and enrollment for voc-tech programs can vary greatly from vocational school to vocational school. 

Regarding your reference to Bristol-Plymouth, it should be noted that this project was approved by the MSBA in October of 2021, essentially two years ago. Please note that the construction industry, along with many other industry sectors, continued to experience an unprecedented increase in construction escalation throughout 2022 and 2023. According to the Producer Price Index for new K-12 school construction from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percent increase from October 2021 to October 2022 was 18%. It is my understanding that Bristol-Plymouth was over budget and is slated to receive a one-time additional grant from the MSBA [along with 29 other schools] to assist in said cost overruns. Based on what I know, the additional one-time funding grant increase for Bristol-Plymouth would be $18.1 million. 

Your mention of comparison to Tri-County is a little more recent since the MSBA approved this project in August of 2023. That being said, removing all of the project components that may differ tremendously, as stated above, the direct costs for the building only, as reported from the MSBA website, is $134,356,081. The square footage of that facility is 281,500; thus, the building-only cost for Tri-County is $477/SF. Whittier Tech’s direct costs for the building-only are $181,999,142, and Whittier Tech's square footage is 380,758, thus $478/SF. 

22. The decision to choose a district-wide election rather than seek Town-by-Town approval required a 2/3rd vote of the Whittier Tech School Committee. Can you provide some insight into the Committee's thought process and how Ipswich's position in the Region and student enrollment factored into your decision?

The SBC has recommended to the School Committee to seek approval using a District-Wide Vote.  To prepare for the Anticipated District Wide Vote, the District met with the city and town clerks in each municipality that make up the Whittier Tech District. The MSBA requires that Districts receive project approval within 120 days of their approval of the Schematic Design approval, which is anticipated to be at their next scheduled meeting on December 13, 2023.  

WT discussed various options with finance directors and municipal leaders at the Spring Budget meetings at Whittier Tech.  At that time, no one had any concerns about the district moving forward with a district-wide vote.  

WT has also researched how other large vocational districts received approval of a building project.  It should be noted that every vocational project used a district-wide election to seek approval, including Tri-County, Northeast Metro, and Bristol Plymouth.

23. The MSBA is slated to consider/approve the schematic design at its December 13th meeting, triggering the requirement to have a funding vote within 120 days. The reasoning given by the Regional District for the quick turnaround is to help cities/towns with their budget planning. Are you hearing from communities that there is a desire to delay the vote to the spring to allow communities to deal with the potential effects.

Allowing cities and towns to know how the WT building project could affect their budget, was certainly a thought about having the vote earlier in the 120 day window than later.  There were also other considerations including a presidential primary in March.  The clerks met together and decided that this was the date that would work for them and for the district.   Please refer to question #4.

Financing for the project would not begin until 2025.  The short-term notes are at 4% to 5% currently.  It is our hope that rates will go down and so will the costs to our communities.  There will not be any capital costs for this (2024) year for the project.  In 2025, the estimated debt service would be $46,793. It is our opinion that delaying the vote could potentially cost the district more and not allow the project to be on schedule.  

24. Can the MSBA approval date be postponed at the request of the district?

The District is not clear what the benefit of postponing the vote might be, although they are aware of the negative financial impact of a delayed vote.  Please refer to question #4.

[See Whittier School Building Project website - https://buildingthefutureofwhittier.org/, added by Town Manager's office.]

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