AMESBURY — A pair of city councilors got into a war of words over the new school building project at the council meeting Tuesday.

The city is engaged in the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s process to build a $60.5 million elementary school next to Cashman Elementary School on Lions Mouth Road.

The MSBA board of directors approved the project Aug. 28 and pledged to award the city up to $23.9 million. A special vote in Amesbury on whether to approve a $60.5 million debt exclusion to help pay for the school is scheduled for Oct. 8.

Proponents, such as Superintendent Jared Fulgoni and School Committee member Peter Hoyt, have said that if the vote on the debt exclusion fails, the city would find itself back at the beginning of the MSBA process and the district may not see a new school project come to fruition for 10 to 12 years.

District 5 Councilor Joe McMilleon, also a supporter of the new school, took issue Tuesday night with a post Sept. 7 by at-large Councilor Steve Stanganelli on the Amesbury Squawks Facebook page that stated the waiting period before a new school project could move forward might be shorter than what others have heard.

“To be clear (regardless of one's views), if the debt exclusion loses, the city will be able to ask MSBA for an extension to modify the plan for the current site or can reapply with a different plan on the old site,” Stanganelli wrote. “In the latter case, the delay has been about four years (not 12 as others have noted) and there is state money for both new construction and renovation.”

Both men are among five candidates running for three available at-large council seats.

On Tuesday, McMilleon said Stanganelli's post was incorrect, adding, “You have to go through an application process, just like you do for a new school."

If the debt exclusion vote fails, the city can request an extension but only to obtain funding for the current project, according to McMilleon.

“It must be the exact, same project, the same size, the same grade configuration, location, etc.," he said. "The extension is solely to obtain funding.”

The city must withdraw from the school building process if the debt exclusion is not approved and "begin the process all over again," he said.

In addition, the city would have to submit a new statement of interest to build a different school, all while beginning the MSBA process again, which could take another 10 years before Amesbury might see a new building.

“We have been in a four-year process and it has cost us $900,000," McMilleon said. "If we decide to change the size, the location or make an addition, we're going to have to start the whole process all over again. That is an important point."

Stanganelli responded to McMilleon by saying his post was “substantively correct."

"This was one comment in a thread on one particular post," Stanganelli said. "There were other posts as well and that one particular post is substantively correct.”

Stanganelli said voters will have the option of saying either "yes" or "no" to the new school project Oct. 8.

“If we vote ‘no,’ we can appeal to get an extension on the exact, same project. That was clearly noted,” Stanganelli said. “But we also have the option to create a new statement of interest. That was in that post and it was in other threads in which I participated.”

The Lions Mouth Road plan is the only school building and location being considered by the state, according to Matt Donovan, MSBA's director of administration and operations.

"This is not a hypothetical, this is what the board approved," Donovan said. "This is what is on the table to be accepted as is. If it is declined, the grant is considered a failed vote."

Donovan pointed to an MSBA policy statement that says if the debt exclusion fails, the city would have a maximum of 10 business days to notify the state why the vote failed and submit a corrective action plan that details a new way to come up with the funding and a timeline in which to do so.

The policy also states that the MSBA will review the city's new plan, but specifies that a failed local vote will likely "result in the school district being required to submit a new statement of interest to the MSBA," then wait for a second invitation to enter the feasibility study phase again.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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