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Voters OK Claremont School Warrant

Claremont — Residents approved a school warrant last night that includes a proposal to borrow $12.6 million to pay for renovations and upgrades at Stevens High School that will now go before voters on March 12.

About 60 residents attended the lively annual school deliberative session in which those speaking in support of the renovation plan outnumbered those who opposed it. The bond proposal came with a strong recommendation from the School Board, which sees the worn condition of the high school as an impediment to students’ education.

Indeed, former and current students, parents, business owners, city officials and others said now is the time to fix the aging high school because waiting will only cost more in the long run. Some said it will help the economic development in the city and bring in better paying jobs.

“Claremont will be left behind if we don’t invest in our schools,” said Roz Caplan, a local Realtor, whose comments were met with applause as were others backing the 20-year bond.

“I really like what I heard,” said resident David Nichols. “I think it is a well-thought out plan and well presented.”

Ingrid Nichols, a partner with Banwell Architects, gave a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted the problems with the school and some of the proposed upgrades on the three floors and the parking and bus drop-off areas. When complete, the building will be compliant with the federal disabilities act, satisfy accreditation requirements, and meet all state fire codes and state education standards.

Board member Charlene Lovett said the total cost, including interest, of about $17 million does not exceed what voters would have paid on a $23 million bond with state aid that narrowly failed to gain a 60 percent majority in 2010.

“We are committing no more than what 60 percent of taxpayers were willing to commit to (in 2010),” Lovett said.

Not everyone enthusiastically backed the proposal.

Resident Doug MacConnell, who said the overall presentation was impressive, but going through it line by line, he wondered whether there were some extras in the budget.

“I think it is a lot about wants and needs,” MacConnell said, noting such things as new lockers and floors. “I doubt all of it is absolutely necessary. It would be nice but is it a necessity. I think it is a lot to ask taxpayers.”

Cynthia Howard, a former School Board member and founder of the group Claremont Citizens for Lower Taxes, said the bond was too costly and suggested the upgrades could be done for a lot less money through the district’s annual maintenance budget. She also took issue with those who said the renovation would spur more economic development. When Claremont was a thriving industry town, she said, employers were attracted to the town because of the labor supply.

“The didn’t come for the high school, they came here for the workforce.”

But most of the speakers held an opposite view

“I’m tired of hearing we can’t afford it,” said Andy Lafreniere. “We can’t afford not to do it.”

Retiree Ann Cuadrado, who said she graduated from Stevens 50 years ago and now collects Social Security, said it may lead to higher taxes but she and her husband were willing to make the sacrifice.

“We are more than willing to give up something to get this done,” she said.

Stevens Senior Ethan Matise spoke of his experience at the school and said he hoped for something better for his younger siblings.

“They have been awful,” he said referring to the last four years and the condition of the building, but quickly noted he received a great education and is college-bound.

“I want to see it the (renovations) happen,” said Matise, who recalled cracked ceilings and lights and bricks falling. “We need the renovation. I’ve seen it erode the last four years. I want to see that change. I really think it would help Claremont a lot.”

City Councilor Chris Irish was angered by the portrayal of Claremont as a “poor” city that can’t afford the bond.

Irish said those who say they can’t afford it really don’t want to pay.

“The people who say we are poor, are using it as a weapon to don’t do anything. I’ve had enough of that argument. I don’t want to hear it.”

Having seen the mill district improvements and the community center nearly finished, Irish said these are examples of Claremont helping itself, not relying upon others.

“We have to make ourselves better. I’m proud of what we’ve done so lets stop with the poor.”

Also approved last night for the March 12 vote was a $32.15 million budget, a $7 million, 20-year lease/purchase agreement for energy upgrades at five of the district’s six schools and three proposed contracts for paraprofessionals, secretaries, and maintenance and transportation employees.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.