, Newburyport, MA

March 7, 2013

Selectmen urge Pentucket board to sign school lease


---- — WEST NEWBURY — Selectmen are pretty much done discussing a new lease with the Pentucket Regional School District for use of the town’s elementary school — and they want the school board to be done with it too.

At a meeting last week town leaders were scratching their heads over a letter from Pentucket Superintendent Jeff Mulqueen informing them of a decision by the School Committee to amend a recent vote on the elementary school leases in order to allow selectmen in Groveland and Merrimac the option of adopting language from West Newbury’s lease. The clause in question governs emergency repairs at the Dr. John C. Page Elementary School.

Each of the district towns retains ownership of its own elementary school buildings but leases the properties to Pentucket for a dollar. However, only West Newbury has ever executed a formal lease document with the school district. The current lease for Page School is set to expire in June.

In its next lease, West Newbury wants to maintain language in the existing lease that authorizes the district to undertake emergency repairs at Page School, once town leaders are properly notified about it. According to lease language, the district would then seek reimbursement for the work based upon an upfront agreement on cost.

This is the language that has always been in West Newbury’s lease and it has never posed a problem, which is why selectmen here say they want to hold onto it.

By contrast, Groveland and Merrimac’s new leases include verbiage that places sole responsibility for any emergency repairs on the town, once town leaders have been properly notified of the problem by the district.

The wording of this clause stems in part from dissatisfaction with how the district handled a mold and asbestos remediation in the Merrimac schools a few years ago. Officials in those towns seek more control over how emergency repairs and their associated costs are managed.

When Selectman Glenn Kemper asked for an assessment from his colleague Dick Cushing as to why West Newbury’s decision to stick with the original verbiage in its upcoming lease might possibly be a concern to the other towns or a problem for the school board, Cushing, who serves as chairman of the Regional Finance Advisory Board, referred to the issue as “a tug-of-war.”

“As usual you’ve got a lot of whining from the other towns,” added Chairman Bert Knowles. He felt the school board should stop revisiting the documents and just move forward with an up or down vote on the leases as presented by each community.

The School Committee has approved language in all three leases, but the documents await final signatures, according to Pentucket business manager Michael Bergeron. “It’s a future agenda item,” he said on Tuesday.

In other business the board approved a request from National Grid for an installation of conduit on Crane Neck Street and other roads in that area; the Garden Club will need to obtain a police detail to assist with pedestrian road crossings during its annual plant sale on the Training Field on May 18 from 7 a.m. to noon; and the Conservation Commission deemed that model airplane activities of the Cape Ann R/C Model Club on Long Hill Farm are not inconsistent with the property’s agricultural preservation restriction.

The Planning Board provided selectmen with a copy of a legal notice announcing a public hearing this month to review 30 units of single-family housing and related infrastructure at 18 Sullivan’s Court.

Two residents issued letters of complaint to selectmen regarding the installation of a basketball court on Bachelor Street near Action Cove Playground. Voters approved funding $86,000 for the courts in 2010. Abutters prefer for the Park and Recreation Commission to pursue a different site for the facility, such as behind Page Elementary School or on the Pentucket secondary school campus. The Bachelor Street complex is already too congested and built to capacity, they argued.

Selectmen reached an agreement on a new contract with Public Works employees, but no contract has been executed yet.

Finance Director Warren Sproul reported that the chief assessor’s position remains unfilled.