If last night’s political temperature of the Sandwich selectmen can be taken as an indication, the future of the swimming pool at Sandwich High School may be in trouble.
The selectmen reacted with a decided lack of enthusiasm to a Sandwich schools proposal to spend an estimated $850,000 to repair and renovate the pool, which has been out of operation since February.
Meanwhile, a proposal to spend about $650,000 toward repairing faulty windowsills in the building’s “A” wing and preparing the wing as the new home of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy for the district’s 7th and 8th graders drew questions but no opposition.
At last night’s board meeting, the selectmen mulled whether to place the proposals, which were presented by Sandwich schools superintendent C. Richard Canfield, on the warrant of a Special Town Meeting scheduled for November 18.
The selectmen plan to vote Tuesday on whether to include one or more of the proposals on the warrant. They are scheduled to meet at 6:30 PM in the television studio at the high school. The meeting will be televised live to the town.
Selectman Susan James warned Dr. Canfield that “this is going to be a tough sale” to voters.
The pool repairs proposed by Dr. Canfield would involve repairing a leak that drained the pool this past February, as well as addressing longer-term issues affecting the humidity and air quality in the large room (known as a “natatorium”) that houses the pool.
Representatives from the engineering firm of C.A. Crawley, which is based in Taunton, presented two options, one costing at least $662,000 and the other at least $856,000.
Selectman Susan James warned Dr. Canfield that “this is going to be a tough sale” to voters. “This is an enormous amount of money you’re asking the townspeople to pay,” given the school’s intent to reduce availability to the general community, Ms. James said. The pool, she said, had been built as a community facility.
Selectman Frank Pannorfi said he did not see the pool as a necessary expense, given other capital costs confronting Sandwich. “We’re not one of the ‘W’ towns,” Mr. Pannorfi said, referring to affluent communities such as Wellesley outside Boston.
Lack of Support for Schools
But Dr. Canfield, now in his third year as superintendent, said a prime concern presented to him before taking the job was that Sandwich was losing students to competing schools, and yet had to fund their education.
What he heard, he said, was that “the reason people were bailing on this community was that there wasn’t sufficient support for the schools.”
That prompted Mr. Pannorfi to retort that “this community has been fully supportive of the school.”
James W. Pierce, chairman of the selectmen, said his preference was to offer Sandwich residents a straight up-or-down vote on the pool repairs, thereby learning whether “they still want an aquatics program” at the school.
Town manager George H. Dunham last night presented the selectmen with different options on the school spending proposals.
They include one-year capital outlay expenditures to fund the “A” wing work and to fund the pool repairs.
As proposed, taxpayers would fund and pay off the expenditures in a single year.
Mr. Dunham said the estimated $650,000 for the “A” wing work would increase the taxes bills by $61 for one year for the average homeowner. The estimated $850,000 for the pool repairs would translate into another $80 tax increase.
Another option on the table would be to combine the “A” wing and pool repairs into a $1.5 million debt exclusion to stretch over 10 years. Annual costs to the average homeowner would start at $18 in the first year, falling to $14 by the 10th year.
To go into effect, this option – which drew almost no discussion – would require a vote of two-thirds of the board of selectmen to be placed on the warrant, followed by two-thirds approval at Town Meeting and two-thirds approval by voters at a November 21 special town election.
If the one-year tax increases were pursued , they would also require a vote of two-thirds of the selectmen to be placed on the warrant, but require only majority votes at the special town meeting and special town election to go into effect.