Letter: Renovate Mascoma High, and Attract Students

To the Editor:

In response to Gary Hutchins (Forum, Jan. 21): In 2008, when an entirely new Mascoma Valley Regional High School was proposed, the plan received less than 40 percent of the vote. Exit polling showed that the community wanted a renovation instead, and renovation plans in 2011 and 2012 received far more support, 57 percent and 59 percent respectively (60 percent required to win). Just 24 votes short last year, the School Board made some cuts, but put a similar project up again because the high school is still sadly deficient.

Mascoma High is more than 50 years old and worn out. It needs a new roof, septic system and infrastructure. The state fire marshal has concerns about the lack of a sprinkler system, the wooden stage and the road access bottlenecks to the high and middle schools. On Dec. 2, the New England Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges declared, after nine years of warnings, that it would give “due and appropriate consideration to downgrading the school’s accredited status” to probation. The 1962 building is deficient in several academic areas as well, including the library, art and music spaces, woodworking shop and science labs. If the renovation fails again, the problems won’t go away, but it will be at least another year before we have another plan to vote on.

Construction costs are rising 3 percent per year, and interests rates are trending up. Mascoma Bank is willing to finance the project in installments over three years, at low fixed rates. The longer we wait, the more it is going to cost. Mascoma also receives over $5,700 in state aid for every student enrolled. If 50 students were to leave the district because the school building is on probation, $285,000 in lost aid goes with them. Classes would only be slightly smaller, so there would only be minimal savings. As enrollment goes down, state aid goes down, and local property taxes go up. This is what happened this fall in Enfield, Canaan and Orange. Alternately, if we renovate and attract students, we receive the aid with very little increase in costs. I would rather be attracting families and businesses than repelling them. Who will be our next generation? Please vote “Yes” March 11.

Dave Shinnlinger