HOPKINTON — 1904 School Building Subcommittee member and former councilor Thomas Buck has recommended that the council postpone the demolition of the old Ashaway Elementary School building by a year.
Buck cited Hopkinton’s current fiscal constraints during the Feb. 19 Town Council meeting, including the sharp increase in the town's contribution to the 2020 Chariho budget, the result of an increase in enrollment of students from the town.
As the council begins to prepare the new budget, the town is facing an increase of $0.83 per thousand in the property tax rate, which is currently $20.07 per thousand.
The town had set aside $135,000 for the school demolition, based on an estimate provided five years ago. The price is now expected to be $40,000 to $50,000 higher, which would add another $.05 to the tax rate, bringing the total increase to $.88 per thousand.
Buck suggested allocating a portion of the demolition funds to the budget to reduce the tax increase.
“Time is starting to get short, because we can only do that building between the end of June and September when school starts,” Buck said. “We have to go out for RFPs and all that stuff. I would recommend to the Town Council, and I explained this to the rest of the committee, that we put the razing date off until 2020. There’s $135,000 in the [capital improvement plan] for that. Let’s keep $50,000 in that account. The rest of the money, let’s take it off and reduce our town financial thing. That's what, $85,000?"
Unused for more than a decade, the old school sits next to the current Ashaway school. Teachers and parents have expressed concerns that the wooden structure is a fire hazard and poses a safety threat to students in the school nearby.
After considering several rehabilitation options for the old school, all of which were determined to be either unworkable or too expensive, the council voted last June to raze the building and authorized the formation of the subcommittee to oversee the salvaging of the building's more valuable components, as well as the timing of the demolition itself.
Town Council President Frank Landolfi said he contacted Ashaway Elementary School Principal Jeffrey Scanapieco to ask him how he and the teachers would feel about postponing demolition.
“I haven’t heard back from Jeff yet whether they really want us to take it down, and if they do it’s going to be an increase on the tax rate,” Landolfi said. "He and those teachers met with me months ago when they had a concern about it, then I brought it to the council and we voted to tear it down. It’s just that we’re in a little bit of a pickle budget-wise and I wanted to run it by them out of respect to them and just see what they thought.”
Scanapieco had not responded to a request for comment by press time, but Ashaway teacher Clare Ornburn, a strong proponent of the demolition who also serves on the 1904 Building Subcommittee, said the teachers understood the town’s dilemma.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” she said. “We want this building down, but most of us aren’t Ashaway residents so it’s not like we’re taxpayers. We’re not unreasonable. We think it needs to come down, but we understand. We wouldn’t want anyone in the town to be further burdened. We’re very disappointed that it won’t come down this summer, but we will still do whatever we have to to keep our kids safe.”