Next Tuesday, residents in twelve Cape Cod towns will vote to either approve or deny the construction of a new Cape Cod Regional Technical High School. The new building in Harwich would cost $128 million, and raise property taxes for the next 30 years.
Supporters say it’s worth the investment in the Cape’s workforce, while opponents argue the cost is too high.
It’s rarely quiet at Cape Cod Tech. And when you need a plumber or an electrician on Cape Cod, odds are you’ll eventually call on the students who studied here.
“It’s basically giving you a real-life experience, first-hand,” said senior Will Grindell.
Grindell grew up in Dennis and studies plumbing. It’s one of the regional high school’s 15 hands-on programs, which include carpentry, cosmetology, and auto technology.
When he’s not in class, he’s training with a Chatham company, on-the-job, as part of the co-op program.
“You’re already out there, you’re already working, you’re already doing it. You’re ready for when you graduate,” Grindell said.
But should the 42-year-old building be torn down to make way for a new school? Voting ‘yes’ would mean a property tax increase over the next 30 years for everyone on the Cape not living in Bourne, Falmouth, or Sandwich. Taxpayers would pick up $81 million of the construction cost. The state would pay the rest.
It’s a small price to pay for a big investment in the local workforce, says Cape Cod Tech Superintendent Robert Sanborn. “Disrespect for that work for so long, and not emphasizing it, has led to a skills gap,” Sanborn said.
Each town’s contribution toward a new school would be based on student enrollment, with Barnstable paying the most. Sanborn said, on average, a homeowner’s tax hike would be about $23 every year
Vida Morris of Yarmouthport is retired, and will vote ‘no’ on what she calls a government scam.
“I call myself the Town Scold,” she said proudly. She’s not against the school, but she’s not prepared to take the hit on her tax bill. “Here in Yarmouth, we are facing another school building project. So it’s one thing after another.”
The $128 million proposal has also met town-level resistance. Because the cost would fluctuate every year for each town, the entire Dennis Finance Committee opposes it. It’s members estimate each Cape Cod Tech student will cost taxpayers nine thousand dollars a year.
Mashpee Selectman Carol Sherman says that’s too much. “I’m a stickler. We have to start living within our means,” she said. Sherman says she would only support a new building at a cost of less than $100 million. “We don’t need a Taj Mahal. We don’t need the big offices, we don’t need the grand entrance. It can be scaled back.”
But Superintendent Sanborn says rebuilding the school will cost about the same as renovating it, and take only half the time. “We didn’t enter with a preconceived notion of whether it would be new or renovated," he said. "But when the cost became virtually the same, it was a no-brainer.”
Maggie Hanelt serves on the Cape Cod Tech school committee. She said, “The investment in families and children is well worth it.”
Hanelt is a librarian in Truro, the town with the fewest students at Cape Cod Tech next year—just three out the six hundred students. “Cape Cod Tech just does an amazing job at helping these students get the skills they’ll need for the 21st Century,” she said.
Superintendent Sanborn says the cost to operate the new building is hard to estimate at this point.
And if voters say ‘no’ to rebuilding, he says, it would be hard to go back to the drawing board.
“I don’t think we’d ever go backwards and say we would renovate this facility," he said. "The cost is neutral. It may be having to look at our educational plan and downscale it, which I would not be supportive of.”
If voters approve, the phased demolition could begin next year, with the new school opening by 2022.
The twelve towns will vote next Tuesday, October 24th, with polls open from noon until 8.
This story has been edited from its original posting to clarify that demolition is expected to proceed in phases.