Lebanon Voters Reject Plan to Modernize School Buildings

  • From left, Catherine Patch, of Lebanon, N.H., Karen Zook, who is running for a seat on City Council and City Councilor Karen Liot Hill hold signs during voting day at City Hall in Lebanon, N.H., on March 13, 2018. Zook defeated Carl Porter for the seat. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jeanette Hutchins, of Lebanon, N.H., rallies support for the renovation of Lebanon schools at the polls at Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon on March 13, 2018. The article was defeated, 820-768. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Hector Cox, 2, Claire Cox, 4, are pulled by Honor Hingston-Cox, all of Lebanon, N.H., after Hingston-Cox voted at United Methodist Church in West Lebanon, N.H., on March 13, 2018. Hingston-Cox brought her kids to the polls because Lebanon schools had a snow day. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lebanon — Voters on Tuesday rejected a $29 million plan to modernize Lebanon’s school buildings, with a proposed performing arts center at the high school proving to be the flashpoint for many residents concerned about the cost.

Residents also elected the owner of a local craft store to the City Council and chose a Lyme School teacher to fill an open seat on the School Board.

The Lebanon School District’s plans to upgrade its four buildings were defeated by residents, who voted, 820-768, to kill the proposal. A 20-year bond for the project would have required a 60 percent vote to pass; it received 48 percent.

Improvements would have included a new cafeteria at the Hanover Street School, more secure school entrances and additional space for classrooms and special services, among other projects.

But it was plans to construct the $12.1 million performing arts center at Lebanon High School that drew the most criticism.

It would have included a 650-seat auditorium, set design space and a music suite, according to architectural designs.

“It’s unfortunate but I opposed (the plan) because I thought there was too much (proposed),” said School Board Chairman Jeff Peavey, who is stepping down after more than 14 years on the board.

The School Board likely will review the plan in the coming year and potentially bring back a revised proposal next March, Peavey said on Tuesday night.

Residents at the polls were split over the modernization plan.

Some said the improvements could enhance students’ education and draw young families to the city. But others worried that increased taxes could force seniors to move away.

“There’s a breaking point, and I think we’ve surpassed it,” Ronnie Robinson said outside the polls at the United Methodist Church on School Street.

Robinson, who recently retired, said Lebanon’s schools should be kept up to date. Teachers and administrators also should have the space they need to educate students, she said.

However, Robinson said, she might not be able to pay for those upgrades.

While the projects might be expensive, they also could be a worthwhile investment, said Martha Neary, who also was voting at the United Methodist Church on Tuesday afternoon.

“I thought about it long term,” she said. “Even though it will increase our taxes, I hope that it will also attract families here.”

Andrew Harmon, who has a young daughter, agreed.

“I voted in favor of the modernization plan to invest in my child’s future,” he said.

Residents approved a $43.2 million school district budget on Tuesday, 1,022-574, to accept the School Board’s proposal for the 2018-19 school year.

The budget amounts to a roughly $300,000 increase over current spending levels.

A $4.7 million contract with energy consulting firm Trane Building Advantage also was approved by residents, 1,127-454.

Trane will install new energy-efficient equipment in Lebanon schools over the course of a 16-year lease, with the improvements expected to be paid through energy savings.

On the municipal ballot, voters elected Karen Zook, owner of the downtown craft store Scratch, to an open seat on the City Council.

Zook defeated Carl Porter, vice chairman of the Lebanon Planning Board, 322-214, for the Ward 3 seat.

“I’m really looking forward to serving Lebanon as the new city councilor,” Zook, who also is on the Planning Board, said after the tallies were counted. “I’m really grateful for all the support this community has given to me.”

Porter congratulated his opponent, saying they ran on similar platforms of creating affordable housing and improving opportunities for small businesses.

“In reality, it’s a win-win,” he said. “I’m still on the Planning Board serving as vice chair and she is moving onto City Council.”

Lyme School teacher Tom Harkins was elected to his first term on the School Board. He garnered 1,102 votes to join incumbents Mary Davidson (1,166 votes) and Wendy Hall (1,118 votes) on the nine-member board.

They defeated former Grafton County Register of Deeds Bill Sharp, who received 398 votes in the four-way race for three open seats.

City Councilors Jim Winny (403 votes), Bruce Bronner (474 votes), Erling Heistad (1,264 votes) and Tim McNamara (1,293) also won uncontested races on Tuesday.

At 1,632 ballots cast, turnout was relatively heavy. Last year, when voters also were forced to battle snowy roads, 1,167 showed up at the polls. The previous two city elections drew about 800 voters.

People can find more information about Tuesday’s results at lebanonnh.gov.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.