AGAWAM — Funding a new Agawam High School would increase the average single family home’s taxes by $465 to $488 per year, depending on the interest rate of the bond, said Mayor Christopher Johnson.

But he said not supporting the project, and instead renovating and repairing the existing building for the next 20 years, carries a price, too — about $340 to $353 per year to the average home taxpayer. The difference between the two options is just around $10 per month, Johnson said at a public informational meeting on Feb. 26.

“It makes far more sense to build something that’s going to last for the next 50 years, for that 10 bucks a month,” he said. “I don’t even know if you can go through the drive-through at Dunkin’ Donuts, or the new Starbucks or McDonald’s, for that 10 bucks a month.”

The numbers were based on taxes paid by the average value of a single-family home in Agawam, valued at $335,714, and repaying the principal and interest on a 30-year $132 million bond. Johnson said the tax impact of the bonding would start in fiscal year 2029. There is a possibility the town might split the bond in two to save money, depending on the interest rates.

Since last year, the Agawam High School Building Committee has worked with architects, project managers, and, as of Feb. 26, Fontaine Bros. construction managers, to develop a new high school that’s part new and part renovated. The town has entered the Massachusetts School Building Authority process, but has not received project approval yet. The MSBA board could take that vote at its June meeting. If the MSBA approves the project, Agawam will receive state reimbursement for some of its costs. The total cost of the project, before reimbursement, was recently estimated at $230.25 million.

The plan is to repurpose the current school’s technical education wing into a pre-kindergarten building and preserve the brick entrance facing Mill Street, as well as the recently renovated stadium and baseball field. The rest will be replaced with a two-story building consisting of two wings with a courtyard between them. Construction  is estimated to begin next year and last until 2028.

Johnson has asked the City Council to call a special election June 11 to authorize the tax increase, giving voters the ability to approve or vote down the project. He encouraged voters to seek out accurate information.

“Please do not rely on what you see on social media,” he said. “I personally am not on it very much, but what I see out there, for the most part, is either blatantly false or at best, not that much true.”

Johnson said voting down the high school building project won’t prevent a tax increase. Without a new high school, the town will have to renovate and repair the current one.

“Either we do this or we say no,” he said. “And if we say no, we’re going to be sticking tens of millions of dollars into what we have.”

In particular, Johnson noted the patchy roof, which he said was completed in 1996 and was only meant to last 20 years. The HVAC system will need to be replaced, he said, as it dates back to 1955 and is in poor condition.

“There’s only so many band-aids that you can put on,” he said.

Necessary renovations and repairs amount to more than $73 million, Johnson said, and perhaps more to meet building codes. And simply fixing the current building does not address outdated technology in the science wing. He also noted that it would take longer, would not qualify for state reimbursement, and would require the use of temporary modular classrooms — at a cost. The construction-and-renovation plan does not require modulars.

As well, Johnson said the promise of a new high school is why Agawam has been able to maintain its New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation. The loss of accreditation would decrease property values, make hiring good teachers more difficult, and impede students’ ability to get into high-ranking colleges. An audience member commented that they would leave town if the school lost its accreditation.

Concluding his presentation, Johnson said no one wants to raise new taxes, but the project concerns students’ quality of life and education.

It has been “51 years since the last time Agawam cut a ribbon on a new school. … It’s time now for us to invest in a new high school, and we get the bonus of having a new early childhood center,” Johnson said.

Asked if the town will replace Town Hall or the police station in the future, Johnson said a new police station is under construction in the former Oaks banquet hall on Suffield Street. He expects it to be done by the end of this year. As for Town Hall, he said if the high school building project goes through, the town won’t likely replace it for a decade.

Asked if those projects will increase taxes, Johnson said every capital improvement project increases taxes.

“If you don’t want to invest in your community, then you’re just shooting yourself in the foot because you’ll drive your property values down to nothing,” he said.

An audience member responded, saying that the town is already increasing taxes based on property values. He also listed off projects the town is pursuing and bad roofs on town properties. He asked how much the police station costs. Johnson said the police station costs $11 million. Roof projects will need to be done in coming years, he said, but most town roofs are in good condition, he said.

The full presentation is available to view at agawamvod.cablecast.tv. The PowerPoint presentation Johnson used is available to view at agawamhsproject.com. Those with questions can email agawamhsproject@gmail.com.

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