Councillors Upset over Spending for McKinley School

It was like getting the check at Abe & Louie’s Restaurant after a large feast without restrictions – a total shock, in other words.

A bond authorization for the full cost of the new McKinley School – now officially dubbed the Staff Sgt. James J. Hill School – has City Councillors infuriated and doing a double take this week after those costs now appear to be far more than ever publicly disclosed.

Upon reviewing the documents, submitted by Mayor Dan Rizzo to the Council last Monday, Feb. 11, many just shook their heads in amazement.

“What do I think of it?” asked Councillor John Powers rhetorically. “One word: astronomical.”

He was certainly not alone, and many councillors were feeling a little betrayed.

“I still think there were other options that could have been further vetted,” said Councillor Brian Arrigo, whose Ways & Means Committee will review the bonds. “The fact this was sold as the cheapest option – it’s just not true, point blank.”

Said Council President Ira Novoselsky, “It’s a lot of money. I have some concerns. How are the people, the taxpayers, going to pay for this? We have to look at it very closely. I think some of the councillors have some thoughts on it. I know several of them have asked me how we can just come up with $57 million.”

Mayor Dan Rizzo defended the authorizations this week, noting that they are necessary and the full costs only recently known.

“I cannot give [the City Council] solid numbers until I get them,” said Rizzo this week. “We have been forthcoming and have no reason to blindside or withhold information as they are part of the approval process. These are projects that are needed and mostly interconnected. If the complaint is that we’re spending money, I would only say that not spending it now will only guarantee we’ll undertake these projects at higher costs in future years. I’m hopeful that the Council will share my vision in supporting the 690 children and families of the McKinley School district, as well as the thousands of others who will enjoy these new recreational facilities that are wanted, and desperately needed in our community.”

The bond authorizations came in a package that included five bond requests and one land transfer request. The land transfer would officially turn over Hill Park to the Revere School Department – another, separate, bone of contention for some councillors.

The five bond requests came out to a total of $55.5 million, some $10 million greater than the most recent estimates that came out during the Christmas holidays. Those costs came out to $44.385 million and were supposed to have included everything, including relocation costs and land takings.

The actual construction costs within the requests are $42.402 million, of which 80 percent will be picked up by the state. Revere taxpayers will only be responsible for about $8.4 million of the actual construction costs.

However, it is the extras that gobble up the taxpayer dime rather quickly as they are not reimbursed at all by the state – leaving them fully on the backs of the taxpayers.

One of the extras includes land takings in the amount of $3 million.

Those takings include four properties on Fernwood Place next to Hill Park for the purpose of making extra parking and easier traffic flow for the Hill School. Those properties include 17 Fernwood Pl; 9-11 Fernwood Pl; 40 Fernwood Ave.; and 42 Fernwood Ave.

Curiously, it also includes 40 Foster St., a taking that had been planned for years when the McKinley was slated to be re-built on its current site, though many considered it unnecessary with the move to Hill Park.

That $3 million also includes paying the Archdiocese of Boston for the ballfields at St. Mary’s – which will be used in a parklands swap, moving the existing softball field from Hill Park to St. Mary’s.

There is another $2.1 million requested to pay for improvements to those ballfields once acquired by the City.

There is also a request for $2.5 million to refurbish the old McKinley School building for City and School office/storage space.

Finally, there is a $5.5 million request to reconstruct and repair Della Russo Stadium. That request, however, has already been reduced by a $2.72 million grant from the state that was announced last week. However, even with the grant, it leaves the City with $2.78 million in the lurch.

Overall, minus the recent state grant, the bond authorizations come in at $52.78 million. Preliminary math indicates that taxpayers could be on the hook for as much as $23.28 million of the Hill School costs – far more than any of the other new schools constructed.

“I think it goes to some of the questions I was asking early on – like what the full price of the project would be,” said Arrigo. “In our earliest conversations we were told the Hill Park option would cost the City $8 million. This is a long jump from that. I had a couple of calls from other councillors and they asked me if I was surprised. I was not surprised. I saw this coming. When you start to put two and two together and realize the cost of moving Hill Park to St. Mary’s, you know it’s going to be a major hit to the taxpayers.”

Arrigo said he had some serious questions about whether the City even had the capacity to bond such a large amount of money.

“This is all in context with our excise taxes going down, the Rental Car Surcharge being gone and the potential for a $2 million fix-up at the Garfield School,” he added.

Novoselsky said there were things in the requests that were in direct opposition to what he had been told previously.

“The fix up of the old McKinley,” he said. “We were told that was all going to be done in-house and as they went. They’re not even telling us what it’s for. Now they want to bond the cost of it too?”

While City officials are asking for a quick affirmation of the bond authorizations, Novoselsky said that a public hearing would take place on March 11th and the matter would likely be hammered out in April.

A vote must take place by May 30th.

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