NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

March 20, 2013

Selectmen balk at Page furniture costs

West Newbury: Issue ignites school lease issue leases debate

WEST NEWBURY — Just because everyone else in the neighborhood is doing it doesn’t mean West Newbury has to as well.

That appears to be the sentiment of the town’s selectmen when it comes to deciding who pays for tables and chairs in the new cafeteria at Page Elementary School.

During a recent budget discussion, Finance Director Warren Sproul warned selectmen that the town could be on the hook for an additional $16,000 to cover the cost of a furniture upgrade for the expanded cafeteria space.

The debate appears to underscore a larger issue involving growing tension between West Newbury selectmen and their counterparts in Groveland and Merrimac during the development of elementary school leases over the past few months.

Sproul said informal feedback from school officials indicates the district believes West Newbury is responsible for the cost of the cafeteria furniture because the need was triggered by a $10 million renovation at the Page School — a project that was initiated by the town.

As part of a larger renovation, the existing gym became a cafetorium with a goal of reducing the number of lunch periods from seven to three. Currently, lunch periods begin at 10:30 a.m. and run until 1:20 p.m.

School officials said that Groveland and Merrimac, the other two towns in the regional school district, are treating the furniture upgrades in their elementary school renovation projects as capital improvements.

According to the Pentucket Regional Agreement, member towns are responsible for costs associated with new construction and renovations, while costs for ongoing maintenance are a district expense.

But West Newbury selectmen aren’t buying it. “Who’s the arbitrator of the question?” Selectman Dick Cushing asked.

Fellow Selectman Glenn Kemper called it “a slippery slope” and preferred to stick with what’s outlined in the town’s lease and the regional agreement.

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