Mascoma Board Defies Critics With Construction Committee
Canaan — Tempers flared at Tuesday night’s Mascoma Regional School District School Board meeting after the board rejected a motion, 4-2, to establish a five-member building committee to oversee the high school renovation project.
The motion was made by Kimberly Depelteau-Tracey, of Canaan, a vocal opponent of the $21.5 million bond that voters approved in March, and seconded by Wayne Morrison, also of Canaan. Depelteau-Tracey was recently appointed to the School Board by the Canaan Selectboard after Dave Barney died.
“I think $21.5 million is a lot of money and every town should be represented,” Depelteau-Tracey said.
As soon as the vote was final, several of the roughly 20 people in attendance shouted at the board in anger.
“This is an outrage,” said Phil Smith of Canaan. “You are not representing what the taxpayers want.”
School Board Chairman Jim Gerding ordered Smith and others to leave when they ignored the chairman’s repeated demands that they stop interrupting the meeting. A call was made to police, but those causing the disruption left before they arrived.
“This is tyranny and you are the top tyrannt,” shouted Dave Stewart, of Enfield, at Gerding as he walked out.
The board later voted 4-2 for Gerding’s recommendation to have himself, Cookie Hebert of Dorchester and Brewster Gove of Grafton to serve on the committee. Gove said the public must understand that the full board will be kept informed of the progress of the subcommittee and with a five-member board, it may be difficult to get everyone together, especially if they meet during the day.
“I strongly believe we need a building committee that is a subcommittee,” Gove said. “Nothing is going to get past this seven-member board.”
When Depelteau-Tracey challenged Gerding to explain how he decided who should be on the committee, the chairman said the selected members have personal schedules that allow them to meet during the day.
“Decisions have to be made quickly and it will be hard to get the full board together during the day,” Gerding said. “The (full) board will make major decisions.”
Depelteau-Tracey said she could make herself available during the day and also asked Gerding to explain his knowledge of the construction business.
“I think I’ve been working on this longer than you,” he replied.
Tension at the meeting began building during the public comment period when several spoke in support and against having Depelteau-Tracey on the building committee.
Her supporters said she brings expertise in construction — she is a project engineer on a new hotel being constructed on Route 120 — while those opposing her said she is intent on stalling the project and her presence on the committee will put the project over budget.
Norman LaBrecque, of Enfield, chastised the Canaan Selectboard for appointing someone to the School Board who has been “totally against the project since the beginning.”
“She was the most vocal opponent and never had anything good to say about it,” LaBrecque said. “In my opinion, they (Canaan Selectboard) were sending a message; they want to slow down the project. She will do all she can to stall it and force it into spending more money.”
But Depelteau-Tracey had her equally vocal supporters, including Stewart.
“She has expertise in building management,” Stewart said. “I think she would be a perfect choice.”
Stewart said opponents of the bond have been unfairly characterized.
“She is not anti-school, none of us are,” he said. “I applaud Kim for stepping into the lion’s den. I think she brings a lot to the table and I think she should be given a chance. Why are you afraid of diversity of thought?”
Canaan resident Larry Gaudette also supported Depelteau-Tracey.
“You need to ask for her expertise in getting the project done,” Gaudette said. “You don’t have the expertise, not one of you and you are trying to railroad her out of it. Something is wrong.”
Canaan Selectboard member Scott Borthwick said the board chose Depelteau-Tracey specifically because of her construction background.
“We think she is the best person and most qualified to be on the committee,” Borthwick said.
But Enfield resident Robert Cusick said appointing Depelteau-Tracey “would be a big mistake.”
He recalled her “disparaging” remarks contained in board meeting minutes and the flyers she created urging people to vote no on the bond.
“Kim has not shown by her actions and tirades that she would be one who works well with others,” Cusick said.
He told the board it has a highly qualified architect and a clerk of the works to look out for the school district’s interests in ensuring the project is completed on budget. Cusick also asked why the Canaan board appointed someone who is the antithesis of Dave Barney, who he said supported the school project.
“To take someone who is anti-school I don’t think is the proper way to go. It would be a great disservice to appoint Kim to the facilities committee,” Cusick said.
When the public comment period ended and Gerding announced the committee would have three members, Depelteau-Tracey said the board had voted previously on the make up of the building committee.
“We already established a building committee with seven members, how can you dissolve it,” Depelteau-Tracey asked.
Superintendent Patrick Andrew and Gove both said the board discussed a full-board committee but the minutes show a vote was never taken. Andrews said members only agreed the building committee would remain the full board until a subcommittee was formed. Still, Depelteau-Tracey pressed for representation from all towns, saying that is what taxpayers want.
In an attempt to diffuse the tension, Gove said he would have no problem reaching out to other board members, including Depelteau-Tracey, to serve on the committee if one of the other three were unable to. He again reiterated the process will be public and it is important to move ahead with the project.
“The public will be informed,” Gove said.
Andrew also promised transparency from the SAU and hoped for a more agreeable discussion in the months ahead.
“I’m not comfortable with these personal attacks in this environment,” said Andrews. “I would like to see us return to a civil place for discussion for everyone’s sake.”
The time and place of the committee meetings will be posted and minutes taken.
Enfield resident Robert Cusick and Mascoma School Superintendent Patrick Andrew spoke at a Mascoma Regional School District board meeting Tuesday night. Their last names were misspelled in an earlier verison of this story.