The Massachusetts School Building Authority recently advanced two big school construction projects after successfully encouraging local officials to choose designs meant to keep costs down. The authority's board approved Norwood High School to be part of its new model schools program, which will use a standard design that officials hope will keep the cost under $80 million. The board also gave Wellesley the go-ahead to move into the design stage of a new $110-million high school. In May, authority officials expressed concern that just after they advanced Norwood's plans, they learned that the project's cost may be as high as $100 million. In addition, State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, the authority's chairman, sharply criticized Wellesley for its $159-million cost estimate, comparing it to the $197.5-million Newton North High School project, which he has called the poster child for out-of-control school building projects.
Newton North was approved under the old school-building system, which Cahill says let school costs rise unchecked. The new system, established four years ago, was developed to help municipalities curtail project costs. The authority has $2.5 billion to spend on school construction over next five years. It funds 40 to 80 percent of eligible project costs, depending on the wealth and size of the town, among other factors. Since the funding process began last fall, Craven and Cahill have talked tough about not letting municipalities spend more than local taxpayers can afford or allowing communities to include luxuries such as swimming pools in their schools.