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Mascoma Supporters Celebrate

West Canaan — After learning that the Mascoma High renovation bond passed by 63 percent, School Board member Cookie Hebert stopped at the high school on her way home from the SAU’s administrative office and sat in the empty parking lot and looked up at the school.

“To know that this physical piece will actually come to fruition, it’s just mind boggling,” Hebert said. “I just pulled up there and looked at the building and thought this is actually going to happen.”

School officials we re elated Wednesday after learning the $21.5 million renovation project passed. It was the third vote on the issue in as many years.

While school was closed Wednesday because of the snow, Superintendent Patrick Andrew said he still received about 100 emails from teachers and alumni, including a recent graduate who wrote, “Though I’m always proud to be a Royal, today feels especially great.”

Despite supporters’ long wait for a win, Andrew said it would be years until the renovation is complete. The next year will be spent finalizing designs and financing, acquiring permits and soliciting bids. Andrew expects construction to start in 2015 and last about two years.

Once work begins, an addition to the building will be the first priority, and the hope is for the addition to be utilized while renovations to the existing building are completed.

In 2012, 56.4 percent of voters supported the project, and last year, 59.3 percent voted in favor. On Tuesday, 63 percent of voters in the five member towns supported the project, safely above the 60 percent threshold needed.

While the proposal this year was similar to past years’, it did include some cutbacks, including a scaled-back auditorium and not replacing a boiler, which was replaced earlier this academic year.

“The people who said, ‘I always stayed out of the political realm’ started putting signs in their yard,” Andrew said. “You saw signs in places where people had been quiet before.”

Andrew said he thinks the difference this year was grassroots efforts from self-organized small groups such as Mascoma Advocates, whose members worked phone banks and sent out mailers about the renovation.

Dawna Pidgeon, an Enfield resident whose two sons graduated from Mascoma High, was part of the Mascoma Advocates , which was an independent effort not funded by the school. Besides manning phone banks and distributing yard signs, volunteers set up informational tables at athletic events, designed a button campaign and made sure residents knew how to obtain absentee ballots if they couldn’t make it to the polls on Town Meeting day.

The group included about 12 to 15 core members, Pidgeon said, but there were a number of other volunteers who assisted the group.

On Tuesday evening, the group met at the Enfield Community Building and waited for results.

“And then today I got up and felt like everything is good. It feels like a weight is off your shoulders,” Pidgeon said.

There are still, however, the 37 percent of voters who didn’t support the renovation, such as Rebecca Stewart, a former Enfield selectwoman.

Stewart makes costumes for the high school’s musical productions, and while she agreed that the school needs a theater, she didn’t think it needed 500 seats, estimating no more than 250 people attend a typical student performance.

She said she would have been more supportive if the school district had broken the renovation’s components into separate ballot questions, such as a warrant article for the roof and another for the ventilation system. She argues that the school is being overbuilt for the number of students that will be attending the school during the next 20 years.

“Our concerns have been the same all along, and we’ve been very vocal about our concerns to the School Board, and they have basically brought us the same exact plan every time with just cosmetic changes,” Stewart said.

Stewart also said she was one of the people who helped produce a complaint filed with the Attorney General’s Office concerning teacher electioneering, including wearing buttons in support of the renovation during the school day.

Andrew, the school superintendent, said he had received a complaint about teachers wearing buttons, and that teachers were told not to wear them at work.

Andrew said he’s sympathetic to people who voted against the renovation because they are worried about the tax rate increase, but he added that he’s still hoping to convince people who are doubtful that it is a worthy expenditure.

“While I’m excited about the 63 percent that said yes,” he said, “I still want the support of the other 37 percent if I can get it.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.