FRAMINGHAM — A new revolving bank account “separate and apart” from other city funds has been set up for the money MassBay Community College is paying to rent one of the city’s school buildings.
MassBay has been a tenant in Framingham Public Schools’ Farley Building on Flagg Drive since 1990, according to college spokesperson Elizabeth Cooper, and has a lease for this year and next at an annual rate of $400,000. The rent money was mistakenly sent to the city’s general fund when Massachusetts law calls for it to be “kept separate and apart from other city or town funds in the city or town treasury and may be expended by the School Committee without further appropriation.”
School Committee Chairman Adam Freudberg said he researched the rules and advocated for compliance around the city’s receipt of rent payments from MassBay.
“Unfortunately, we have learned through this research project that the checks have been deposited in the general fund, mixed with other money. Additionally, the money is to be spent with only authorization of the School Committee,” said Freudberg during a School Committee meeting.
Since fiscal 2011, MassBay paid $8,548,333 in rent, according to Freudberg.
At a recent meeting, the School Committee voted unanimously to create the account and immediately deposit all fiscal 2022 rent payments into it. The move brings the city into full compliance with the law.
Freudberg said he recommended that the policy only concern FY22 revenue. The $400,000 from this past fiscal year is already planned to be spent in the city’s budget, according to Freudberg.
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“I am not looking to use that money and redirect it and create an immediate midyear $400,000 gap in the city finances,” said Freudberg. “For me, this is solely about compliance.”
City Council Chairman George King said the then-town used to deposit MassBay’s rent into the city general fund back in the early 2000s, when he was the Town Manager.
“I remember being surprised back then that it went into the general fund but at that time at least to my understanding and interpretation of law, when the building was being rented and there was no school use that money goes back to the general fund,” said King.
He later added, “I don’t think the intent was to be noncompliant, I just think no one paid close attention to it.”
School Committee member Richard Finlay said he supported the move, saying the Farley Building is in need of repairs and the money in this account could be used for a new roof, windows or other necessities.
The School Committee has also approved a midyear capital project proposal to replace the roof at the Farley School. In a presentation, Matthew Torti, the district’s director of building and grounds, showed images of the roof’s damage and decay, including ceiling tiles that are peeling off due to leaking.
The plan is to obtain the money for the project this fiscal year and prepare the designs, go out to bid, and potentially do the work next summer when the building is vacant and the parking lot is accessible for construction vehicles, said Torti.
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For fiscal 2022, the district requested money to replace the roof but the request was deferred by the city. According to a memo, the roof replacement is estimated to cost $3,108,400, ballooning from the FY22 cost of $1,826,975 due to inflation, price increases in materials and labor, inclusion of a structural analysis for future solar placement, and repairs to copper roofs which was not included or needed in the prior year’s proposal.
“This is a problem that’s been around for years and years and years,” said School Committee member Geoffrey Epstein.
Freudberg called MassBay a “wonderful partner,” saying the community college is “fulfilling the lease terms and are not part of this necessary city finance compliance action.”
This summer, all Central Office departments relocated to the Farley Building, including the superintendent, business and operations, equity, diversity, community development and more.
MassBay has plans to build a $25 million facility on the corner of Mount Wayte Avenue and Franklin Street that will serve as the school’s new Framingham campus, providing academic and administrative space for programs in nursing, radiologic technology and other fields.
The new science center will allow MassBay to leave the Farley Building and end its lease — described by the state as a “costly” arrangement that uses an “outmoded facility.”