by James Ostis
Boston – Citing “extraordinary” cost overruns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, global supply chain issues, and subsequent extensive increases in material costs, the Massachusetts State Senate has proposed a multi-faceted plan that would help Lowell High School and other similar school building projects by committing at least $100 million towards defraying costs for these previously approved projects.
At the beginning of this legislative session, Senator Ed Kennedy filed S.298, An Act relative to increased material costs in school construction projects, which called upon the Commonwealth to make funds available for previously approved Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) projects that have been disproportionately impacted by recent trends. Three of the affected school projects serve students in the First Middlesex district—Lowell High School, Tyngsborough Middle School, and the Florence Roche School in the Groton-Dunstable school district. All three schools were planned and approved prior to the marked increase in material costs but are currently undergoing construction after prices have skyrocketed.
In addition to the legislation filed in January, Kennedy has also worked closely with Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways & Means chairman Michael Rodrigues on this issue, and stressed to them during budget meetings about the importance of finding a solution that would alleviate the cost pressures on the affected cities and towns without any sacrifice in the quality of the facilities for our students.
“Senate leadership has been very open and responsive to our concerns, and I thank President Spilka and Chairman Rodrigues for truly recognizing this issue as a statewide priority in the Senate budget plan,” Kennedy said.
In S3, the Senate Ways & Means Committee’s FY24 budget bill, $100 million has been set aside for Massachusetts School Building Authority Capital Supports for cities, towns and school districts experiencing extraordinary school project costs impacted by post-COVID inflationary pressures, with this investment being made possible by the additional revenue from the Fair Share Amendment. This funding shall be made available for 30 affected school projects in Massachusetts that have been previously approved. The bill also calls for raising the MSBA’s annual borrowing cap to $1.2 billion, with the possibility that these additional funds may also be used to defray costs on these previously approved projects. While cities and towns had previously been expected to pay for the entire cost of the overruns, the Senate plan would see the majority of these costs covered by state sources.
The Senate will be formally voting on this budget in two weeks, with debate scheduled to begin on May 22nd. Since the House version of the budget does not include a plan to mitigate the unanticipated increase in the cost of school building construction materials, the Senate plan will still need approval by a conference committee, and a signature from Governor Healey but Kennedy notes he is hopeful that this plan will become part of the Commonwealth’s budget for Fiscal Year 2024.