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Lyme Rejects Renovation

Residents Vote Down School Expansion

Lyme — Dashing the School Board’s hopes, voters at the annual School Meeting last night narrowly rejected a $3.6 million renovation project for Lyme Elementary School, with the warrant article falling 29 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Lyme residents turned out to the meeting in droves, lining the walls of the school gym and filtering back out into the hallway. They heard an hour-long presentation from the School Board before weighing in on the project, which district officials estimated would have added $180 to the annual school tax bills on a home valued at $250,000. The final vote was 241-135.

The renovation would have created 10,000 square feet of new space by adding a second story to the Laura Barnes wing of the school. It would have added four classrooms to the current layout, allowing for the removal of two classroom trailers.

In advocating the need for the project, School Board Chairman Mark Schiffman repeatedly cited an anticipated rise in construction costs and interest rates on borrowing as to why voters should approve the bond this year. But residents in attendance last night said current economic conditions clashed with the timing of the project and voiced their reluctance to charge ahead.

Jane Fant said that it was her understanding that the Federal Reserve had pledged to keep interest rates low at least through 2014, and potentially even further, until a “significant reduction” in the unemployment rate.

“It’s not scary that interest rates will go up ... I don’t think that’s a major factor to consider,” she said.

Bob Sanborn said that it was a “terrible time” for taxpayers to incur the expense of the school bond.

“A whole bunch of people ... don’t have quite the incomes that they’ve had in other times, and I do feel that there a quite a few people who live in town that are already paying about all they can afford in taxes,” he said.

Instead, voters approved an alternative that would cost only $75,000 — or 24 cents on the tax rate — and would extend the lease of two classroom trailers, as well as add a trailer to accommodate a growing student body. No one spoke in opposition to the alternative, which also included the utility costs for the classroom trailers and funding for minor repairs to the school. The current school portion of the municipal property tax rate is $5.24 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Lyme residents will also continue to pay off debt incurred during the 1994 school renovation, which adds 24 cents to annual school taxes — or $60 per year for a home assessed at $250,000 — in the next two years.

Schiffman said last night that the decision to propose the bond this year was driven by the approaching retirement of the 1994 school debt, as well changes in federal education policy that required more flexibility in classroom sizes and a rising trend of enrollment in the town.

He said that the anticipated enrollment for next year’s class was 213, compared to 166 enrolled in 2002.

Michael Whitman said that the K-8 population was the same as it was in 1995. He pointed out that charts being used to show a growth in population started the year later, in 1996, and questioned whether the Board had done a realistic projection of where the school population was headed.

Whitman added that he had heard about the bond proposal only a month ago.

“This whole process seems to have gone really fast,” he said.

Voters last night also voted on the school’s operating budget of $5.5 million, but the results were not available at press time.

The budget represents a nearly $5,000 decrease in total expenditures from the current year’s budget, but Schiffman said last night that taxes are nonetheless likely to go up under the budget because of a change in the amount of revenue being drawn from reserve funds.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213