New London to Weigh Converting School into Community Center

New London — New London residents will decide tomorrow whether to explore the possibility of transforming a vacant middle school into a community center.

The warrant article, one of 13 on which they will vote at their annual Town Meeting, would authorize the town to secure an option on a lease for the building, which is located downtown. Officials have shown interest in leasing the property, which has been empty for several years, but claim they need more time to examine what costs and time would be required to develop the space for town use.

The school was built in 1941 and is currently owned by the Kearsarge Regional School District. Last fall, the district requested proposals on it and received two: one from the town and another from Mount Royal Academy, a private high school in Sunapee. The district has agreed to give the town first chance on making an offer, said Town Administrator Kim Halquist.

Should the article pass, the town will pay the district $10,000 to keep the property off the market for one year, allowing it time to assess what it would take to turn the former school into a usable community space, which the town does not currently have.

Also on the ballot is a $5.7 million operating budget, up about $180,000 from last year. That’s a roughly 3.3 percent increase, which, based on estimates, would increase the town portion of the tax rate, at most, 60 cents, to $4.53.

Selectman Chairman R. Peter Bianchi attributed much of the increase to new pension and health care costs for public employees, a result of reduced state contributions.

Bianchi’s board has endorsed all but one article, which would raise $25,000 for the Conservation Land Acquisition Capital Reserve Fund. The conservation fund currently has about $450,000 — a figure that Bianchi said he and other selectmen consider sufficient for now.

“We’re not against the commission, there’s no animosity,” he said. “It’s just a matter of what certain groups think should be there, and due to other constraints we thought this year we could do without it.”

The town will also decide whether to use capital reserve funds to replace a 2010 police cruiser, a tractor for the transfer station and a Muffin Monster sewage grinder.

Town elections will be held today from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. There are three contested races, including Bianchi’s seat on the board of selectmen. He is being challenged by John Lewis.

The meeting starts tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Kearsage Learning Campus, 114 Cougar Court.