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State Officials Examine Unity School Plans

Unity — With the final plans for the new K-8 elementary school now under review by the state Fire Marshal’s Office, the School Board told about 20 residents at Tuesday night’s board meeting they are still hoping to get the OK to restart construction of the school by the end of the year.

“Hopefully, it will be by the end of December,” board Chairman Shawn Randall said. “Things are moving along.”

Randall added that architect Scott Vaughn will remain on the job, but if there is no significant movement toward construction by the end of the year, he could be replaced.

Work on the school was halted in late summer because complete plans had not been submitted for approval by the fire marshal. The plans were submitted last Tuesday.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Vaughn said the Fire Marshal’s Office had a series of questions that are now being addressed. The biggest issue seems to be whether there are enough toilets for the 34,000-square-foot building based on code.

“There may be a potential to back that (additional toilets) down a notch,” said Phil Sherman, a fire protection engineer working with Vaughn on the design.

State Fire Marshal Ron Anstey said his office knows what the code “allows us to do” and now will see if some modifications can be made.

Vaughn said the Fire Marshal’s Office has requested additional documents from some of the manufacturers of the construction materials.

Overall, Sherman was optimistic that the fire marshal’s questions could be addressed without undue delay. “Everything has a path toward a legitimate response,” he said.

Unity voters approved a $4.7 million plan to replace the town’s aging and unsafe school in August 2010. Since then, the School Board, with input from residents and Vaughn, added space, including a full-size gym. Tuesday night, residents said that they remain uncomfortable with the project’s expansion.

“I voted for a $4.7 million school,” said Michelle Carley. “I didn’t vote for a bigger school for more money. Why did I get it?”

The total cost is now at $5.9 million, but $700,000 of that has been donated and the rest bonded. The town is also receiving 45 percent state aid on the $4.7 million.

Vaughn has previously said the cost of the building will exceed $5.9 million and that he has taken it upon himself to find savings as construction proceeds.

Toward the end of the discussion, Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin restated his suggestion that the board replace Vaughn. “There is a lot at stake here,” he said.

The possibility that the roughly 100 Unity students, who are now attending school in Claremont, would have to be tuitioned to other schools next year if Unity’s school remains unfinished is “unconscionable,” McGoodwin said.

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