In debate, both Attleboro mayoral candidates support plan for new AHS

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – At odds over many issues on the campaign trail, the two candidates for Attleboro mayor found common ground over a school building with a price tag of more than a quarter-billion dollars during a debate Friday in the WPRI 12 studios.

The proposed new Attleboro High School will cost an estimated $265 million to construct, with city taxpayers paying for roughly $133 million and the state picking up the rest of the tab. But voters will need to approve a tax increase in early 2018 for the project to get off the ground.

Incumbent Mayor Kevin Dumas warned if voters don’t approve the tax increase, there “isn’t a plan B.”

“The reason is because if there are other improvements that are made to the [current] school … that is something the city could not afford,” Dumas said during a debate on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “That would be mainly all city taxpayer dollars, so instead of being $130 million it would be almost $200 million on the city’s dime.”

In a previous debate sponsored by The Sun Chronicle, Dumas challenger Paul Heroux raised concerns that the voters may reject the high school – citing what he’s been hearing on the campaign trail – and said the city should plan accordingly. He suggested the city may have to propose a “smaller or more modest” high school if the vote fails.

Asked if raising that possibility undercuts support for the tax override, Heroux said, “I hope not.”

“This current proposal is the only one on the table right now and the sooner we get this new school the better off we are,” Heroux said. “We are in a place if the current plan fails the city is going to be in a lot of trouble.”

Dumas said the project is already pared down to the minimum needs of the city’s future high schoolers.

“This isn’t a Taj Mahal,” Dumas said. “This is the bare bones of what’s required to provide 21st-century education per our [education] plan to our students.”

“I think there is a chance it could fail,” Heroux said. “The sooner we get this new school the better off we are.”

Dumas was first elected mayor of Attleboro in 2003 as the youngest chief executive of the city in its history; he was 27. Heroux is a current state representative elected in 2012; prior to that he was the director of research and planning at the Mass. Department of Corrections. Heroux came out on top in the preliminary mayoral election held in September.

Other topics covered during the half-hour debate included economic development, school funding, term limits, the so-called “millionaires tax,” the city’s large pension shortfall and more. The full debate is online, and will also air Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence.

Voters in Attleboro will head to the polls on Nov. 7.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook