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Claremont Board Adopts Articles on School District Warrant

Claremont — The School Board last night voted unanimously to adopt 10 articles on the school district warrant, including a $12.5 million bond to renovate Stevens High School and a $32.22 million budget.

The warrant now moves to the Feb. 6 deliberative session where residents can amend some of the articles before the annual school district vote on March 12.

SAU 6 Business Manager Tim Ball said at a sparsely attended meeting if all the articles with appropriations were approved as currently proposed the school tax rate would increase $1.34 to $19.80 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The increase breaks down to about 60 cents for the budget, which includes a 21-cent increase in the state education tax and a 39-cent increase in the local rate. The remainder of the increase is spread out among the rest of the articles.

The 20-year bond article for Stevens would have a 30-cent tax rate impact the first year.

The budget approval was conditional as the board agreed it could make further reductions before the deliberative session.

One article seeks voter approval for a 20-year lease agreement to install $6.1 million of energy savings equipment at the district’s three elementary schools, the middle school and Stevens High School. The equipment would include upgrades in lighting, insulation and windows and installation of wood pellet/hybrid propane boiler systems at all schools. The annual lease payments of $330,000 would be paid for with energy savings in the annual budget, thus there is no tax rate impact from the article, the School Board said.

“We can do it at a zero cost to the taxpayers,” said board chairman Richard Seaman. “We will spend those dollars anyway so this is a tremendous opportunity for Claremont.”

Ned Raynolds of Johnson Controls of Manchester, N.H., the company that has made the proposal, said if the guaranteed savings fall short, it will cover the difference for the school district.

“Energy performance contracting is about making needed capital improvements with money you already have,” Raynolds told the board. “If you make no improvements, you will keep spending that money. We guarantee that the savings generated by the improvements will pay for themselves.”

Raynolds said if the article passes along with the bond for Stevens, Johnson Controls would integrate its work with what Banwell Architects designs for Stevens.

Board member Dave Putnam said the boilers at Stevens are more than 100 years old and were originally built for coal. He said emergency repairs during a recent cold snap were needed to avoid shutting down the school.

“We have no choice (but to replace the boilers,)” Putnam said. “This is an incredible opportunity to embrace.”

Ingrid Nichols and Jules Chatot of Banwell Architects presented the plans for renovating Stevens.

Highlights include complete upgrades to all plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems, larger classes, expanded cafeteria, a renovated kitchen, new entryway, new doors and some windows, making the entire building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, creating a bus loop and car drop-off area out front and adding parking.

Only three residents attended last night’s public hearing on the bond. Resident Cynthia Howard, who frequently criticizes city spending, said it was the wrong idea at this time and blamed the problems at Stevens on a lack of proper maintenance.

“It doesn’t cost $13 million to do the repair work,” said Howard, who suggested the school district do a little work each year using money from the maintenance budget. “It doesn’t have to be done all at once.”

Chairman Seaman defended the proposal.

“We believe the proposal puts us in a position to have high academic achievement and academic excellence for all children in Claremont. That is what the focus is on.”

Also on the warrant are three separate contracts for maintenance and transportation employees, paraprofessionals and secretaries. A new contract for administrators valued at $26,514 has been included in the main budget.

If everything passes as currently proposed it would add $202 in school taxes to a home assessed at $150,000.

The default budget, which would be implemented if the proposed budget fails, is $32.11 million.

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