The City Council Ways and Means Subcommittee was back at the table trying to understand how the city will pay for a desperately needed new high school. Committee members are starting back at the site with questions about the difference in cost for building on the existing site or Wonderland, which the city has taken by eminent domain. This triggered a heated exchange between City Council President Patrick Keefe and other councillors who wanted more information.
Keefe said the decision on the site and the taking of Wonderland are done and the committee should be focused on how to pay for the school over the next 10 to 15 years. He challenged other councillors who don’t want to move forward at Wonderland to stand up and say they don’t want a new school. And he said work was already done that shows building on the existing site will cost more money – $16 million – and time. Part of the problem at the existing site is it’s not known what’s in the ground under the building.
Keefe said there is no need to go over the numbers of building at the existing site. But Councillor Gerry Visconti said since the Wonderland vote, the council was thrown a number of $499 million for the building, which puts the site in play.
Brian Dakin, senior project manager for the high school building project, said the total cost for a school at the current site would be significantly more than a school at Wonderland. “Going back to the existing site is going to cost you time and maybe $30 to $35 million more,” Dakin told the committee.
City Solicitor Paul Capizzi was at the meeting to answer questions about the eminent domain taking. He was asked if he could guarantee the $29.5 million cost for the land. Capizzi said he couldn’t make any guarantees about what might happen if the case goes to court. He did say the city took the site in good faith and would be able to sell it if the high school switched back to the existing site.
Councillors have been torn between the knowledge that the city needs a new high school and the idea it would be unfair to ask taxpayers to pick up the bill for the building. The School Building Committee is scheduled to meet this week, and cost cutting or value engineering are on the agenda.