Published in the October 8, 2015 edition


NORTH READING — It’s been a very long time since Town Meeting failed to finish its business in one session. But that streak ends tonight, Thursday, when voters will be called back to an unusual second session to act one way or another on the repair or replacement of the Little School roof.

The meeting starts at 8 p.m. tonight in the high school’s Performing Arts Center.

Voters at the opening Town Meeting session raced through the mundane warrant of 23 articles in under two hours Monday but deliberately postponed Article 11, asking money for the Little School roof, until Thursday at the request of the Board of Selectmen, School Committee and  Finance Committee.

The reason: the latest cost estimate to fix the roof came in much higher than anyone anticipated. Originally estimated at $263,000, a more sophisticated engineering study put the cost at $1.75 million, a cost increase of more than six–fold.

The Selectmen, Finance Committee and School Committee asked for additional time to study the engineering report and financial options. A joint meeting of all three boards was scheduled for Wednesday night to hash over the study and the alternatives.

After working for months with a rough estimate of $263,450 for the repair job, town officials were shocked when the more thorough consultant’s study came in last week at $1.75 million and began to scramble for a strategy to cope.

The consultant’s study is said to be one inch thick, with detailed scans for water and structural damage.

“This is an extraordinary tack we’re taking, but a necessary one because of the short time we’ve had to properly vet what came back from our consultant,” Selectmen Chairman Robert Mauceri told Town Meeting.

The decision is complicated by the fact that the town is eligible for up to 48 percent reimbursement for the project cost from the Mass. School Building Authority but in order to remain eligible, the town has to show Town Meeting is willing to fund the project. The deadline for that is December, so the project can’t  be postponed until the next Town Meeting in June, Mauceri explained.

Postponing until tonight gives the boards the chance to go through the report in detail and bring a reasonable decision back to the community, Mauceri said. They have also asked the consultant to provide alternatives based on the use of different roof materials.

The vote to postpone the roof article was not unanimous, as some residents questioned how much better prepared the town fathers can be in just 72 hours and whether the project should be put off for a special town meeting.

Only 90 voters turned up for Monday’s Town Meeting and there’s always a drop in participation for a second session. So it will be interesting to see how many folks return for Session 2 tonight to make a potential million dollar decision.