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Mascoma School Renovation Bond Gets Widespread Support at Deliberative Session

  • Sophomore Karina Zawilinski, 15, of Enfield, describes the shortcomings of the 50-year-old Mascoma Valley Regional High School during yesterday’s deliberative session at Indian River School in Canaan. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Sophomore Karina Zawilinski, 15, of Enfield, describes the shortcomings of the 50-year-old Mascoma Valley Regional High School during yesterday’s deliberative session at Indian River School in Canaan. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Emile Birch, left, an artist in residence at Indian River School, and Ellen Wlber, the school’s band director, right, listen during yesterday’s meeting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Emile Birch, left, an artist in residence at Indian River School, and Ellen Wlber, the school’s band director, right, listen during yesterday’s meeting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dave Shinnlinger, Mascoma Valley Regional High School shop teacher, gets a laugh out those waiting to speak in support of renovation and improvement of energy efficiency at the fifty-year-old high school. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Dave Shinnlinger, Mascoma Valley Regional High School shop teacher, gets a laugh out those waiting to speak in support of renovation and improvement of energy efficiency at the fifty-year-old high school. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sophomore Karina Zawilinski, 15, of Enfield, describes the shortcomings of the 50-year-old Mascoma Valley Regional High School during yesterday’s deliberative session at Indian River School in Canaan. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Emile Birch, left, an artist in residence at Indian River School, and Ellen Wlber, the school’s band director, right, listen during yesterday’s meeting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Dave Shinnlinger, Mascoma Valley Regional High School shop teacher, gets a laugh out those waiting to speak in support of renovation and improvement of energy efficiency at the fifty-year-old high school. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Canaan — A proposed $21.8 million bond issue that would overhaul out-of-date systems throughout the Mascoma Valley Regional School District drew hundreds of supporters to yesterday’s deliberative session.

About 15 people took to the lectern in the Indian River School gym to address several hundred residents of Enfield, Canaan, Grafton, Dorchester and Orange. Many lauded the proposed bond issue, which is $2 million less than a similar proposal that was voted down last year.

“When the last bond issue did not pass, the kids cried,” said Sue Jukosky, a sixth-grade teacher at Indian River School. “They literally cried in the classrooms. We told them, ‘Well, we’ll carry on. We’ll fight on for you.’ ”

Besides last year’s defeated proposal, a $39.5 million bond to build a new high school was voted down in 2008.

If passed, the bond issue would be used to pay to overhaul the traffic flow for cars and buses on the Indian River School and Mascoma Valley Regional High School campus, as well as a dedicated, district-wide performing arts space and more classrooms to accommodate teachers who now teach from rolling carts. The project also calls for the installation of a sprinkler system, which the high school does not have.

Most of the improvements would affect the 50-year-old high school, though some reach throughout the district. The idea behind such a large-scale renovation, said Wayne Morrison, a School Board representative, is to give students “a fair chance at an appropriate education.”

But even though most of residents who spoke yesterday made cases for the bond, not everyone was convinced.

Malcolm Love, of Canaan, cited declining enrollment numbers — a problem acknowledged often during the meeting — as one reason to push against the bond, which officials hope will bring more young families into the district.

In an interview outside the gym, Love, 69, said he was in favor of many of the improvements, but the proposal, as presented, was too aggressive.

“It’s just too much money,” Love said. “They want us to essentially mortgage our future to bring in new residents.”

The renovation bond issue is one of two on the Town Meeting warrant. The other is a $2 million proposal for energy-efficiency upgrades. Along with the school budget, the three spending proposals are intertwined, with the dollar amounts of the budget and the renovation bond issue changing depending on how the energy-efficiency fares.

For instance, the renovation bond issue includes a provision that says if the energy efficiency bond does not pass, $2 million will be added to the total being borrowed, bringing the renovation bond to $23.8 million.

Similarly, $130,000 would be added to the proposed $21.6 million school budget if the energy-efficiency bond issue fails. The additional money would make up for the money the district had expected to save by putting the efficiency upgrades in place.

If the energy efficiency bond does not pass but the renovation bond does, an extra $2 million will be folded into the renovation bond, meaning the district would borrow $23.8 million.

Taxes would increase to varying degrees, depending on the town in which the taxpayer lives. Enfield taxpayers would bear the smallest burden, paying an additional $206 a year on a property assessed at $200,000, by 2017. Orange taxpayers would chip in the most, incurring an additional $317 annually by 2017.

At times, the tenor of the discussion leaned toward numbers and concepts: The taxpayers’ pains; the effect of aging education infrastructure on young families who are considering moving into the area. But several students also spoke, walking the adults through a typical school day.

According to Mascoma High sophomore Karina Zawilinski, students have to plug microscopes into outlets hanging from the ceiling during science classes. She sometimes sits on the floor during lunch for lack of table space. Fume hoods in chemistry classes “rain” water during the winter. And the intercom system, she said, doesn’t work.

“It was military surplus 50 years ago,” she said.

But the most impassioned argument of the morning came from Lori Saladino, who has children enrolled at Enfield Elementary School and in the Indian River Nursery School. She said young families are loath to move to the area, in part because the community hasn’t actively set out to correct the schools’ deficiencies.

Toward the end of her comments, Saladino cited a quick “engineering” fix mentioned by officials during an earlier presentation.

“People who live in a bubble and think it’s acceptable to put tomato cans under leaking pipes, that’s unacceptable,” she said. “Let’s get this outside the halls here,” she continued, as cheers spread through the gym. “Enough is enough. Enough is enough.”

After a nearly two-hour discussion on the renovation bond, the district budget was brought up. No one went up to speak. Then, the district’s business administrator, George Caccavaro, gave a short presentation on the $2 million energy-efficiency bond, which would outfit the district’s four schools with wood-pellet burning systems. The elementary and middle schools would also keep their current burners as backups; the high school would get a brand-new one.

According to Caccavaro, the annual savings from the upgrades would pay for themselves over the bond’s 15-year lifespan.

“This is probably one of the sweetest deals I’ve ever seen,” he said. “When you see the opportunity to basically get something paid for out of savings, you don’t want to pass it up.”

Soon after, the floor was opened for public comment. No one offered any.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.