Opinion: Michael Sabatini

A YES vote for MET is an easy decision

Posted:  Monday, October 22, 2018 - 9:00pm
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A Yes vote for the MET project seems like an easy decision, it fills an immediate need, it makes financial sense, and it saves a piece of the history and fabric of our community.

The Need

The administrative offices and the Zenith program have grown out of the Bus Barn space and both groups need and deserve dedicated space.  The school board has been looking to solve this problem for many years (including an RFP for 13,000 square feet of lease space back in 2005).  In fact, the Zenith program now has a waiting list. 

Many options were evaluated, but they seemed to settle on a new building on the high school campus with an estimated cost of $2.5 million (more on that later).  As part of the work of the MET repurposing committee, it was determined that the programming for the administration, Zenith, and Adult Education fit very well into first and second floors of the MET building.  Need Solved!

Financial Sense

First some background about the $4.9 million budget for the MET restoration.  This figure includes a large amount of soft and administrative costs. 

The actual construction estimate is only $3.7 million. 

The additional $1.2 million (30 percent) in administrative and soft costs includes a second 10 percent contingency (on top of the 10 percent contingency included in the construction costs), design fees, permitting fees, construction administration, and $175,000 for new furnishings.

When comparing the MET renovation to a new build at the high school, we need to compare apples to apples.  The new build estimate that has been discussed is $2.5 million.  This is only construction costs and was established by applying $210/square foot for a 12,000 square-foot building. 

For a fair comparison, I would think we should at least use 13,000 square feet, which was the established need back in 2005. 

We probably should increase the $210/square foot figure to account for inflation (as was included in the MET estimate), but we will leave this alone for this comparison.

Using the $210/square foot for 13,000 square feet, it would increase the construction costs from $2.5 million to $2.7 million.  Additionally, we should apply the same 30 percent percent of soft and administrative costs to this construction budget or $800,000.  A total of $3.5 million.

So, a fair comparison between the two projects is the difference between the $4.9 million MET budget ($200/square foot) and the $3.5 million new build budget ($270/square foot).  This $1.4 million difference, I believe, is a more accurate picture at this point. 

Here is why the MET makes financial sense.  To make up for the additional expense, the lower floor of the MET can be rented out.  The market rate for yearly rental space is $15/square foot, however to account for the tenant’s fit out expense and utility costs, we will use a figure of $10/square foot for 7,000 square feet of rentable area. 

This would generate approximately $70,000 per year in income to SAD 28. 

In general, the expense (interest and principal) per year for a $1 million bond is $70,000, so this income would pay for about $1 million of bond costs. 

Although the relationship between SAD 28 and the Five Town CSD is like family, if the CSD occupies a portion of an SAD 28 building, rent is paid.  This is the case in the Bus Barn and would be the case in MET.  Although this has not been negotiated between the CSD and SAD 28 boards, it would not be unreasonable to expect that an additional $30,000 of rent would be paid for delivering 16,000 square feet of space (two upper floors of MET). 

This additional rent would pay for the yearly bond costs of about $430,ooo.  Together with the lower floor rent, the additional yearly expense associated with the MET project would be covered.

From these figures, I would conclude that it makes perfect financial sense to take the opportunity to deliver about 24,000 square feet of MET space at a cheaper cost per square foot to fully satisfy the immediate needs of the administration, Zenith, and Adult Ed programs. 

The school district would be positioned to accommodate any growth in their programs (such as pre-school) and in the meantime, additional yearly bond expense, beyond that which would be paid for a new build project at the high school, will be funded by rent to SAD 28.

A Piece of History

The calculation to move forward with the MET project should not be all about dollars and cents.  There are intangible factors that should be considered.  In fact, I would argue that the MET building enhances the fabric of our community and provides a continuity of history. 

What is the value of that? In my opinion, it is priceless. 

Having been involved with numerous historic renovations, I can assure you that saving the MET building will be a source of pride.  It will be a decision for which future generations will be grateful.  Can you imagine Camden without the Opera House or Rockport without Union Hall?  Let’s not regret the demolition of the MET.  

Vote YES for saving the Mary E. Taylor Building!

Michael Sabatini lives in Camden and is a member of the MET Repurposing Committee