Hartford Board Eyes Bond Revote

Hartford — The School Board did not make a decision Monday night on how to spend the roughly $1.5 million left under the joint recreation bond that voters approved during Town Meeting last year.

And it might not have to.

After a lengthy and occasionally intense debate between nearly 40 community members and the School Board about how to spend the money, board members voted 4-1 to put off the decision until Hartford’s March 29 town floor meeting — or to potentially the second week in April.

School Board member Peter Merrill, who made the motion to delay a decision, said a main reason was to see if the proposal to borrow another $3 million to cover the shortfall in funds needed to complete the track and turf field and field house can be revived.

Supporters have just under two weeks to collect enough petition signatures to hold another vote this year.

“If members of the track and football organizations, the soccer organization, the lacrosse organization, etc., decide that it is really a good idea to work together, get out, talk and push hard, there is a possibility that we don’t need to have this discussion,” Merrill said at Monday night’s School Board meeting at Hartford High School.

School Board Chairman Kevin Christie said Monday night that if a petition doesn’t surface — either for or against another bond vote — the School Board would decide how to proceed with the money left under the bond at the March 29 floor meeting, if the meeting rules allow.

If the board is not allowed to conduct business at the floor meeting, Christie said the board will make an executive decision on how to proceed at its April 9 meeting.

There was talk that a supplemental bond vote would be done through Australian ballot.

Officials did not know Monday night how many signatures it would take to submit a valid petition.

For resident Gabrielle Lucke, the direction the School Board took Monday night sufficed.

“I support that they didn’t rush to judgment and make a decision,” Lucke said immediately following the hour and a half recreation bond debate. “I think all of this is an important part of the democratic process.”

Several different ideas as to how the $1.5 million could be spent — or not spent — were raised Monday night.

Ideas ranged from moving forward with both the track and field house projects by scaling down the field house and going with a grass infield encircled by a track, to holding onto the money until enough is raised to complete all of the projects at their original intents.

Voters at Town Meeting last March passed a $9 million recreation bond to complete town and school projects. The school district originally had $3.25 million available — $900,000 for middle school improvements, $1.55 million to build a field house and $800,000 for the track and turf field.

More extensive site work than planned made it clear that the track and turf field couldn’t be completed without additional funding. And the middle school renovations — which, in part, entailed overhauling the gymnasium and cafeteria — ended up costing $600,000 more than estimated, and required shifting funds from other projects to cover the shortfall.

$250,000 also went to new electrical, plumbing and water lines that will service multiple projects on the high school campus, leaving $1.5 million to spare for the remaining projects.

Others on Monday proposed constructing the various projects with volunteers versus hired contractors in order to save money, or building only the track — or only the field house.

“I do feel like a lot of the other projects (under the $9 million bond passed at Town Meeting last year) were passed because of the track,” said resident Sheila Hastie. “And at this point for everybody to get everything else except for the track is a travesty.”

“The voters should have a chance to revisit the rec bond,” said resident Tim Fariel. “I suggest we hold the funds until we agree to do all that is promised.”

School Board member Lori Dickerson seconded the motion and said she favored it because the decision will go back to the citizens and even if a petition isn’t posted, a decision will be made by the middle of April — something that is crucial if the board hopes to get a project underway this spring.

Newly elected School Board member Paul Keane voted against the motion. He said during the meeting that the town could have both the track and the field house if the board voted to move the track to the Maxfield property — the site of a brand new athletic complex in town. Moving the track, he said, would save money on site work, thus leaving more money to go around.

“I sense in this audience no support for that,” Keane said before the 4-1 vote was cast.

Project Architect David Laurin spoke to what the cost of the track would be at the high school without the artificial turf infield. He said the difference between a track with a grass infield, and a track with a turf infield, is about $200,000.

He and DEW Construction’s Mike Smith said the drainage requirement wouldn’t change for either surface, but that the school district would save money on the asphalt base, soil base, and track surface.

Former School Board member Jeff Arnold, who decided not seek re-election, spoke several times during the course of the meeting — at times getting fiery with Christie, who was re-elected to board chairman last night.

The back and forth between the two got so heated during the roughly 30 minutes that was devoted to reviewing the policy that governs the board that Christie told Arnold he could “sit down or you can leave.”

“I have given you due respect,” Christie said. “You have used up your patience with me.”

“Don’t you think I feel the same way?” Arnold countered.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.