By Chris Maza
EAST LONGMEADOW – The Board of Selectmen recently voted to approve a resolution authorizing a statement of interest for the high school to be sent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).
East Longmeadow Public Schools Superintendent Gordon Smith and School Committee Chair Gregory Thompson met at the board’s March 18 meeting to discuss the matter and explain the process.
Smith told the board that once written, the state would only accept the statement of interest if it had the approval of both the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee. The statement of interest, as well as the approval forms from both entities, is due to the state by April 11.
Clarifying the purpose of the statement of interest, Board of Selectmen Chair Paul Federici said, “This just gives [the district] the opportunity to approach the state as far as getting in the loop, if you will, for the potential of a school and the potential of funding from the state. By no means is anyone tied into anything because obviously it has to go to town vote.”
School Committee Chair Gregory Thompson further explained that the statement of interest simply opens the door for the town.
“We’re asking for permission from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to enter within their pipeline, their process,” he said. “If they [the MSBA] look at our report and say, ‘Yes, this is a viable project,’ it doesn’t mean that they will approve a renovation or new building. It just invites us into the process to explore the idea.”
Asked by Selectman Angela Thorpe to explain the process a bit more in depth, Smith said once the statement of interest is filed, “it’s a bit of a waiting game.”
“Between now and the end of October or beginning of November, they will review all the different statements of interest they have received for 2014,” he said.
After the review, the town might be invited into what Smith called the “eligibility period,” during which he said the town would have to perform another series of steps in order to begin the process of determining what kind of project would be done.
“That would require a feasibility study and that would require a Town Meeting vote,” Thompson said. “That’s what we look at as the first barometer – whether the voters are even interested in a project of this nature – because if their intent is to go forward with any comprehensive project, then you would think the town would support that feasibility study.”
Thorpe added that because articles for Town Meeting are known in advance, it would allow time for additional discussion and education on the topic prior to a vote.
Smith said the process could be beneficial because it would allow the town to discover exactly what the state would consider it eligible for in terms of reimbursement.