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Claremont Council Backs Stevens Bond

Claremont — The six city councilors who attended last night’s joint meeting with the School Board strongly endorsed the $12.6 million proposal to renovate Stevens High School, a move that school officials hope will sway public opinion to get behind repairs that have been put off for years.

Following a presentation by Jules Chatot of Banwell Architects, Mayor Jim Neilsen gave his fellow councilors the opportunity to join with the School Board in formally supporting the bond, which will be voted on at the March 12 annual school district meeting.

Councilor Tom Burnham said the plan is something that should have been done years ago to address the myriad of problems with the building. A $23 million bond to renovate and expand the high school was defeated by a single vote three years ago.

“We are now addressing these issues,” said Burnham. “It will do a lot for this community. I know this will work.”

Councilor Chris Irish, who had suggested the council pass a motion backing the renovation bond, spoke about how the council and School Board have the same goals and priorities. Noting that the council doesn’t need voter support to pass its budget or other spending proposals while the School Board does, Irish urged his colleagues to back the board.

“It is time for the council to join you in this fight,” said Irish, who is married to School Board Vice Chairwoman Heather Irish. “It is time for us to stand together.”

Councilor Kyle Messier echoed that view, stating that the proposal contained all of the essential pieces and was economically viable.

“It is important for the community and children and it is time for us to step up,” Messier said.

Chatot’s presentation highlighted the existing problems with the school and outlined the proposed fixes. These would include all new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, a new front entrance and new side entrance to the gymnasium, expanded parking, building new science classrooms, a larger cafeteria and kitchen so students would not have to leave school for lunch, a new security system and new windows.

The renovation would bring the building into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act and satisfy the requirements of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which placed Stevens on accreditation probation last summer.

The proposed tax rate impact on the 20-year bond is 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation the first year and $1.09 the second year. It would remain at about that level until the bond is paid off.

Councilor Irish said those who complain about the tax impact should compare the cost to their cable TV bill.

“The taxes are equal to what HBO cost for a year,” Irish said. “What is more important? Come out and vote and support the future of our kids.”

Assistant Mayor Andy Austin called it a “judicious plan” with reasonable costs.

“Every year we wait it is going to cost more,” Austin said. “It is a terrific opportunity.”

Also making a presentation was Ned Raynolds, account executive with Johnson Controls, the company that is proposing to install energy equipment upgrades at the district’s schools, including wood pellet/propane boilers. The $7 million lease/purchase proposal under Article 4 of the March 12 school district warrant is called an “energy performance” contract, meaning that the annual cost savings in energy Johnson guarantees will be equal to or greater than the annual lease payments.

“We are doing a project that is self-funded,” Raynolds said.

Irish said voting yes on the article is “common sense.”

“If we do nothing, we get nothing,” Irish said. “This solves a problem for at least the next 20 years.”

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