Claremont To Renovate Stevens High School
In front of the Claremont Middle School yesterday, Paul LaCasse and Ann Cuadrado were keeping dry under umbrellas. LaCasse was holding a sign for write-in candidate for School Board Brent Ferland. Cuadrado was supporting the Stevens High School renovation bond. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
At Claremont Middle School, Nancy Marro and her daughter Hannah Marro wait to vote on Tuesday. Nancy Marro is a teacher at the school and Hannah is a para educator at the school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Alison Raymond, moderator for Claremont’s Ward 2 answers voter Paul Miller’s question about the ballot. After voting, Miller said he did not want his taxes to go up. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Claremont — A $12.6 million proposal to renovate Stevens High School was approved by voters, 1,399-780, during the annual school meeting vote yesterday, cheering city boosters who have long sought to upgrade the downtown building, which dates back to 1868.
“A great night,” said an elated School Board Chairman Richard Seaman.
All other warrant articles also passed, except for a proposed tax cap, which was on the warrant by petition. The renovation needed 60 percent support to pass and received 64 percent of the vote.
“We are just so happy,” said outgoing School Board member Charlene Lovett, who did not seek re-election. “To have passed with 64 percent, that is awesome. How can you not appreciate that kind of support?”
Andy Lafreniere, a member of the communications committee that worked to promote the project and encourage voters to approve it, said that a majority of voters realized the city needed to make the investment in its high school because the benefits go beyond education.
“I think people realized it was a benefit to the community all the way around,” an overjoyed Lafreniere said last night. “I’m feeling good right now. This is a win for the community of Claremont.”
Though he believed his committee’s work paid dividends, Lafreniere gave the credit to the voters.
“This came down to voters realizing this was important and they provided the victory,” he said.
In 2010, a $23 million Stevens renovation proposal fell short by a single vote.
Once complete, the renovations approved yesterday will include refurbished mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, updated security, a new main entrance, more parking, a new bus loop and student drop-off area, a larger cafeteria, new science labs, updated locker rooms, new windows and doors and some new roofs.
Banwell Architects, which did the proposed design, said the renovated school would be in compliance with all fire, safety and building codes, the Americans with Disabilities Act and state education standards.
The project would also address the deficiencies cited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which placed Stevens on probationary accreditation status last summer.
Seaman said the difference with this year’s vote was the citywide support for the project.
“The whole city came together for the kids in Claremont. The School Board, the council, the mayor, the city manager,” Seaman said. “It was not just one group. I think it was a fantastic job getting the message out and explaining the benefits.”
Asked whether the recent opening of the new community center in Claremont had any effect, Seaman said it’s possible.
“It built a level of pride,” he said
Voters interviewed at the polls yesterday appeared to be split among those who said taxes are already too high and others who said the high school must be improved.
“I’m against it,” said Ward 2 voter Mike Descoteau, 71, after voting. “We’ve been taxed to death, and now we got that place across the street.”
Descoteau was referring to the new community center, which was partially financed with a $5.3 million bond approved by the City Council.
Barb Dyke, also in Ward 2, saw the renovation bond differently.
“I voted yes,” said Dyke. “I think it is needed and necessary. We need to keep the accreditation.”
Alexander Puksta, a 1979 Stevens graduate, was at the polls with his two sons, Michael, a Stevens senior, and William.
“It’s long overdue,” said the elder Puksta about the renovations project. “I supported the last one (in 2010 that lost by one vote.)”
A companion article to the bond for a $7 million lease/purchase agreement with Johnson Controls for energy upgrades in the schools, including wood pellet/propane boilers, new windows and insulation, was approved 1,548 to 611.
Johnson guarantees that the savings in the district’s annual energy expenses, which total about $600,000 a year, will more than cover the annual lease payments, so there is no anticipated tax rate impact for this article.
School officials have said Johnson’s work at the high school would be in conjunction with the renovation of the school.
The proposed budget of $32.15 million was approved 1,324 to 835.
Increases in health insurance, state retirement contributions, special education, instructional technology and support and staffing to address behavioral issues are behind most of the increase. The budget also includes $26,000 for a one-year administrators contract.
Also approved by wide margins were contracts for maintenance and transportation employees, paraprofessional and secretaries, technology upgrades for $112,850 and replacement of two school buses.
With the passage of all appropriations, including the bond, the overall school property tax rate is projected to increase $1.02 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The new overall rate of nearly $19.47 would add $153 in annual school taxes on a property valued at $150,000, bringing the total annual bill to $2,912.
The tax cap article, which would have prohibited future increases in the amount to be raised by taxes, failed, but not by much. With 1,205 voting in favor and 868 voting against, it was just 2 percentage points shy of the 60 percent supermajority required for passage.
Seaman, 1,090, and former board member John Napsey, 1,387, were elected to the School Board, as Brent Ferland, who launched a last minute write-in campaign, received 387 votes.
Citywide turnout was 33 percent or 2,201 of the city’s 6,578 voters. In Ward 1 turnout was 29 percent, 38.6 percent in Ward II and 31.4 percent in Ward III.
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com.