College to help fund new school

Vice President for Administration Helen Ouellette announced yesterday Williams College will make a financial pledge to the construction of a new Williamstown elementary school if the project is passed in a town vote.

Ouellette said the College would contribute up to $2.5 million and not less than $1.5 million in order to hold the project’s impact on property taxes to a $.75 increase for every $1,000 valuation. Before the announcement of the College’s donation, town officials had estimated that the project would cause an increase of $1.11 per $1,000 in the tax rate.

“If the town votes to proceed with the project, Williams is pleased to be able to reduce significantly the cost to the town’s taxpayers,” Ouellette said. “Williamstown is facing an extraordinary set of big ticket capital needs just now, especially the Spring Street and school projects, so the Board of Trustees believed it was appropriate for the college to offer extraordinary help.”

According to Ouellette the actual amount of the gift will depend on interest rates at the time of borrowing for the project. The College will pay enough of the interest expense during the first 10-12 years to keep the tax rate impact stable at $.75 per $1,000 until it declines naturally to below that amount.

In order for the town, and not the College to receive the benefit of low interest rates, the College is promising a minimum gift of $1.5 million. “We’ve set our upper limit at $2.5 million because we are pretty confident that that should cover a fairly reasonable high-end estimate of financing costs,” Ouellette said.

In response to Ouellette’s announcement, Anne Skinner, chair of the Williamstown Board of Selectmen, said, “It is hard to be brief thanking an institution for such generosity.”

Skinner complemented the College for taking the needs of ordinary citizens into account when making this gift and said the project is now truly affordable. “Keeping the property tax increase down allows people who would receive the maximum benefit from this project to actually stay in town,” Skinner said.

Associate Professor of Political Science George Crane, who is also chair of the Williamstown School Committee, expressed his “sincerest and deepest thanks” to the College. “This is the latest and grandest in a long line of positive contributions that the College has made to the school,” he said, noting the computer labs as one other example.

Stuart Shatkin, School Building Committee Chairman, also thanked the College, saying, that “the generous help of the College we can now have a school that will be the center of this community.”

Town Manager Steven Patch expressed his amazement at how quickly Ouellette has come to understand the community as a newcomer. Patch personally thanked Ouellette and expressed his belief that the College has “continually tried to be a good neighbor.”

The pledge follows a recent pattern of increased Williams involvement with the Williamstown Elementary School (WES). Williams was a founding contributor of $25,000 to the school’s WES Endowment Fund.

Also, a series of grants to Williams from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have enabled the college to spend $243,000 on a science enrichment program for local schools focused primarily on WES. The project involves Williams science students teaching at WES and has provided the school with tens of thousands of dollars worth of science equipment, including new computers. Williams also provides the school with a free link to the internet.

Each year, Williams Bicentennial Olmstead Awards grant $3,000 to WES teachers for professional or curricular development. College work-study funds support several Williams students who tutor WES students in reading, while college funds support their training and supervision. A similar program in math is also about to begin. The after school enrichment program at WES, Adventures in Learning, is taught primarily by Williams students and receives in-kind and financial support each year from the college.

The proposal to build a new elementary school must pass a special town meeting and then a town vote, both scheduled for November.