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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

October Election Set for New Tri-County Regional High School

Contributed by Joe Stewart

On October 24, voters in Norfolk and Wrentham (as well as Franklin, Medfield, Medway, Millis, North Attleborough, Plainville, Seekonk, Sherborn, and Walpole) will decide whether to support a building project for a new Tri-County Regional Vocational High School. Tri-County, located in Franklin, offers students comprehensive vocational and technical education programs as well as traditional academic courses.

Since this is the first time that Tri-County has requested funding outside of the normal annual assessments, this will be an historic election – the first ever district-wide election.

In the 1970s, to address shortages in trained vocational workers, Massachusetts launched a vocational school building program and, with both state and federal funding, built Tri-County with no increase in local taxes.  

When the school opened in 1977, Brian Mushnick, the Norfolk representative to the Tri-County School Committee and chairman of its School Building Committee, entered its first class and subsequently graduated from Tri-County in 1981.

Mr. Mushnick says that Tri-County is now nearly 50-years-old, and its age is showing throughout:  water damage, inadequate heating and cooling, and no fire suppression system. Despite ongoing maintenance and repairs, the facilities are “tired,” noted Mushnick.

In 2019, Tri-County applied for funding to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the state agency that provides construction funding for public schools in the Commonwealth.  Since then, the school has been working through the various MSBA approval phases.  

According to Tri-County’s June 27 Schematic Design Submission (robust design for project evaluation – just under 1,000 pages), the total project budget is estimated at $286 million, which includes hazardous materials abatement, demolition, construction, technology, and more.

Dr. Karen Maguire, Tri-County Superintendent, shared that the School Committee entered the MSBA program planning a renovation, but following two years of detailed assessments of four alternatives, the determination was made to build a new structure as opposed to renovating the existing building. Among other factors, the estimated total project costs across the viable alternatives differed by less than 1%, from $279 million to $282 million. 

Dr. Maguire also noted that seven of the Commonwealth’s twenty-eight vocational schools are also in the MSBA pipeline, including Old Colony which serves her own community, so she has both a taxpayer and a superintendent perspective. Dr. Maguire offered the old car analogy:  there comes a time when fixing an old car doesn’t make sense.  In the case of Tri-County, a renovation costs a bit more and we’d still be left with a 50-year-old building.

For a local government perspective, we spoke with Kevin Kalkut, Chair of the Norfolk Select Board, who explained that the financial impact to member towns only recently became available.  Because costs are spread across 11 district towns based upon enrollment, Tri-County estimates that the Norfolk allotment would be $520K and Wrentham, $927K, for the next 30 years in addition to the usual annual cost. While Norfolk might not need an override, towns like Medway and Plainville, each with more than $1 million estimated assessment, will likely need a debt exclusion to fund their share of the Tri-County debt.

About 40 students from Norfolk and close to 70 from Wrentham attend Tri-County.

Polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, October 24.  Unlike the King Philip Regional School District where two of the three member towns must approve debt, the Tri-County district requires a majority vote regardless of town.  No early or mail-in voting is planned.

Tri-County plans public meetings about the project and will also have a booth with more information at the Cracker Barrel Fair, scheduled for Friday, September 15 through Sunday, September 17.

For more information visit the Tri-County Building website: