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Supporters Turn Out for Mascoma High

Canaan — A crowd of around 30 residents turned out Tuesday night to hear details of a $21.5 million renovation proposed for Mascoma Valley Regional High School.

The audience at Canaan Elementary School, dominated by supporters of the project, mostly raised questions about the consequences of failing to get voter approval for the renovation.

If certain upgrades are not performed soon on the 51-year-old building, the high school may lose its accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, said district Superintendent Patrick Andrew.

Loss of accreditation would not mean imminent closure, but could affect the district’s ability to attract quality teachers and raise questions with college recruiters.

“Does it mean kids won’t get into college? No it doesn’t,” Andrew said. “It just means it raises questions about the overall quality of the program.”

This is the third time in as many years that voters are weighing a plan to overhaul the high school.

Voters in the district’s five towns — Enfield, Canaan, Grafton, Dorchester and Orange — shot down a $23.8 million renovation bond in 2012 and a $21.8 million plan in 2013. Last year’s proposal came up fewer than 25 votes short of the necessary 60 percent needed to pass. A majority in Enfield and Canaan supported it, but the project failed to muster enough votes in Grafton, Dorchester and Orange to go forward.

This year’s renovation plan would replace outdated plumbing and electrical systems and expand the school’s footprint from 60,000 square feet to about 95,000. The extra space would house new classrooms, a bigger gymnasium and cafeteria, a new library, auditorium and reconfigure the front entrance to better handle traffic, among other changes.

The proposal shaved $307,000 off last year’s price tag, mostly by reducing the size of the auditorium, school officials said. And in working with Mascoma Savings Bank, district officials have developed a financing plan to borrow money for the three-phased project as needed over time rather than upfront in one-lump sum, further saving money on the debt payments owed for the first couple of years.

No one in the audience spoke critically of the project, though some residents previously have questioned the need for certain amenities like a new auditorium.

Enfield resident Bob Cusick understood concerns over a much larger plan in 2008 to build a new high school, but said the proposal going before voters this year was a wise investment in the community. It could attract new families to the district and help boost enrollment while also further spreading the tax burden among more residents.

If approved, the renovation project would have little tax impact next year, ranging from 2 to 4 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in the district’s five towns. In year two, the estimated tax impact would be greatest in Orange at 67 cents per $1,000, followed by Canaan (63 cents), Grafton (51 cents), Enfield (41 cents) and Dorchester (40 cents), according to estimates distributed Tuesday night.

Cusick, who does not have children in Mascoma schools, said he nevertheless has an interest in the high school as a property owner and member of the community. He said he also supports the project because of personal pride.

“I want to be proud of my town and school district,” Cusick said after Tuesday’s meeting. “I want the kids to have an opportunity.”

Before the discussion on the renovation, Mascoma budget officials held a public hearing on a $22.8 million school district budget proposed for next year. The plan calls for 3.5 percent increase in spending over the current year.

But other than a basic question about enrollment figures from one audience member, there was little to talk about and the committee adjourned after only 5 minutes.

Both the school renovation and the budget will be discussed Feb. 1 at the Indian River School for the Annual School District Meeting. Voting will be March 11.

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.