Brookline’s outlook looms over schools

BROOKLINE – If the local school districts don’t start sharing their long-term needs and construction plans, local schools could soon be filled to the gills with no solution in sight, according to members of the town’s Capitol Improvement Committee.

One of the recommendations included in this year’s Capitol Improvement Plan is that both the Brookline School District and the Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School District need to provide the improvement committee with more concrete information and plans in upcoming years.

Frank Lukovits, chairman of both the Planning Board and the Capitol Improvement Committee, said the lack of information from the school districts could affect the success of future construction proposals.

“It could seriously delay the project if the information doesn’t get out in time. I suspect that was the problem with the (2004 Hollis/Brookline High School) renovation – people didn’t feel like they had enough information so things take a couple of years to get passed.”

Brookline’s Capital Improvement Plan is kind of like a holiday wish list.

Each year around this time little ones rank their lists, placing the most desirable toys and baubles at the top. In the same fashion, when it comes time to spend the town tax money in March, residents have to determine which projects and expenses are most important. Instead of toys and baubles, the town ranks the need for things like emergency vehicles and playgrounds. Similarly, not everyone gets their wish.

To help town residents navigate through that process, towns put together a plan that projects the cost and importance of municipal projects. Projects are rated in order of importance to help determine which big-ticket items should appear on annual meeting warrants. The document is meant to advise, not to ital Improvement Committee, which is overseen by the Planning Board and made up of residents and members of various town departments. Last week, the Planning Board approved the 2005 CIP.

The Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee will consider the CIP when it comes time to pare down the town’s proposed wish list.

Another way the CIP process helps voters is by determining which projects the town can collect impact fees on. An impact fee is a tax on a new development to partially offset the expenses the town will incur because of the development.

“The vast majority of our taxes go towards schools, so that’s an important department to focus on,” Lukovits said.

An online version of the CIP says, “The committee is concerned about the reason that an addition to the Coop High School is not being planned until 2010 when projections show we will be over capacity in 3-4 years.

“This project is a very likely candidate for an Impact Fee, but its lack of research or at the least, the lack of a proper project submission to the committee, prevents us from making that recommendation.”

The CIP is also put together with some help from the Nashua Regional Planning Commission. The NRPC helps out, in part, by providing the town with necessary information about projected town development and growth rates.

One fact that may catch local voters’ attention is the section on Brookline’s population expansion. According to NRPC data included in the CIP, the town’s population increased by 523 percent between 1950 and 2000.

Brookline’s population grew by 73.5 percent during the 1990s alone. According to the NRPC, by the year 2020, Brookline’s population is projected to reach 6,923, a 66 percent increase over the 2000 population. These numbers make it necessary for the town to develop a long-term plan for maintenance, growth and development.

The CIP rates municipal projects and purchases from “urgent” to “inconsistent.” While none of the projects on the slate for 2005-2010 were rated “urgent,” many of them were rated “necessary.”

Some of the highlights from the list of “necessary” municipal projects proposed for 2005 include:

– Replacing the culverts on Wallace Brook Road.

The CIP says, “Because the culverts are rotting out, the earth around them is beginning to erode and there is a potential that if conditions deteriorated far enough, that the road could wash out.” The estimated project cost is $35,000.

– Maintaining the Degutis/Georges Camp fire pond.

Despite recent changes to the town’s fire protection regulations, which disallow new fire ponds in favor of residential sprinkler systems or cisterns, a three-year fire pond maintenance plan was rated “necessary.”

“Just because we’re not allowing new fire ponds doesn’t mean we don’t have to maintain the old ones,” Lukovits said. The estimated cost is $5,000.

– An unmarked police cruiser to replace the current one, which has 130,000 miles on it. The proposed cost is $22,500.

One of the items marked for “research” (a rating that indicates a project needs more looking into) is a shed to cover the town transfer station’s “swap area” where folks drop off things like furniture, books and toys that are still in good condition. Currently, the area exposed to the elements.

Trash, treasure and wish lists. That’s what the CIP is all about.