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Revamped Nauset School on the Ballot in Several Towns

Nauset High School in Eastham
Kevin Rutherford
Nauset High School in Eastham

Voters go to the polls in Orleans, Eastham, Brewster and Wellfleet Tuesday to vote on a new high school.

The planned renovation and addition is close to $132 million dollars, although the state has agreed to reimburse the district $36 million dollars.

The plan is to renovate part of the nearly 50 year old high school, and to rebuild other sections of the school.

Part of the problem with the current school is the heating, cooling and ventilation systems are original to the building, and have poor efficiency standards.

Also, the plumbing was built into concrete walls. Whenever there’s a leak, crews have to break through the concrete to get to the pipe, and then rebuild afterwards.

The original building was also made to accommodate fewer students, so administrators have been forced to create makeshift classrooms in hallways, or old locker rooms. There’s some instances where students have had to walk through an active class to get to another classroom.

Also, classroom sizes aren’t up to state standards, the cafeteria serves almost double the number of students it was designed to accommodate, and there was no designated space for special education when the school was built.

The plan developed by the school committee – which had input from the state, and officials in the four towns - includes building a new performing arts center, a new science lab, and a new cafeteria.

Some buildings would be demolished, and others completely renovated.

Officials also want to expand an outdoor quad area to provide more space for outdoor classrooms.

Nauset was accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority program in 2017.

But some Brewster residents, and town officials think the project is too expensive.

The average tax bill in Brewster could increase by $300 a year while the town pays off the debt.

The Brewster Finance Committee voted against the project.

Chairman Pete Dahl says he understands the need for improvements to the school, but the finance committee doesn’t think Brewster taxpayers should be "subsidizing" other towns.

There’s about 600 students in the four towns that make up the Nauset district – Brewster, Eastham, Wellfleet, and Orleans.
But about 300 students currently come from out of district.

Members of the Brewster Finance Committee say that it actually costs taxpayers money to teach those out of district students. They argue that by cutting those students, the size of the project can be reduced to fit 600 students, not 900. And that would reduce the cost.

But proponents of the project say it isn't that simple.

Chris Easley is the chair of the Nauset School Committee, and he’s helped move the project forward.

Easley says that school choice students are a benefit to Nauset, not a drain on taxpayers.

He points out that many local school districts are actively trying to get students to come to their district. If they lose a student, they are losing that tax-money in their own district, and that’s paid by taxpayers.

He points out that many public school districts are actually running advertisements to promote their own school in an effort to bring students in.

Easley says that the Nauset school is able to run successful programs. He says they are ranked in the top 25 public high schools in the state. And they attract a lot of students from out of district because of that.

He fears that if the building project fails, the building woes will continue. Less students will come from out of district, and then there would be less funding coming into the schools. And education at the school will suffer.

Easley also points out that out the four select boards and 4 finance committees in the district, the Brewster finance committee is the only one that opposes the project.

And he points out there is no official back-up plan. It took the district nearly a decade to come up with a plan, get state funding and bring it to voters.

While the school building continues to struggles over that planning process, Easley says it's unlikely the district will be able to receive state funding a second time around. And construction costs will only get more expensive.

Polls are open in the four district towns from 11 to 7 on Tuesday, March 30.

Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.