Revamped School Expansion Plan Back on Ballot After Narrow Loss
At the Lyme School on Jan. 16, 2014, students play on a snowbank on the playground. First-grader Katherine Tullar helps her friend, second-grader Nina Marshall, down the bank. At right is second-grader Caleb Smith. Two temporary classrooms are in the playground at the school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Lyme School cook Jaye Kenney loads lunch trays into the dishwasher at the school in Lyme, N.H., on Jan. 16, 2014. The kitchen at the school is very small, with storage and refrigerators in the hallway. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Lyme — For the second year in a row, school officials are seeking voter approval to borrow $3 million for an addition and renovations to the Lyme School.
This time around, the proposal for the K-8 school has been scaled down.
The project now features a 10,000-square-foot addition at the rear of the school that will include three classrooms and two small group instruction rooms, as well as other renovations that will increase community accessibility and improve energy efficiency.
A public bond hearing will be held at 7 p.m on Thursday at the school, and there are plans for weekly information meetings before the measure comes to a vote on March 6.
Last March, the school was unable to muster the support needed to fund a larger, $3.65 million renovation; despite a final vote of 241-135 in favor of the measure, it fell twenty-nine votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority.
Superintendent Mike Harris said he remains optimistic that, this year, residents will cast their votes in favor of the bond.
“It’s a slightly different project from last year, one that I think is more acceptable to the community. And it’s less money — at least $500,000 less,” he said.
“We’ve heard some hesitancy, but a great deal of enthusiasm,” Principal Jeff Valence added. “Lyme has always done a good job listening to our needs and doing what’s good for the town.”
The two-story addition, which will extend 46 feet from the rear of the building, will provide space for five rooms, including an art classroom and an information technology room.
The kitchen will be expanded into what is currently a hallway. By adding a handicap accessible bathroom with a shower and a visitor’s bathroom, Valence said he hopes to make the building more accessible to the public as a community space and as the town’s emergency shelter.
Additional renovations include 600 square feet of space added to the kindergarten room, a more efficient heating system and a new roof on the Laura Barnes elementary school wing.
The new space will replace two trailers currently used as classrooms behind the school. The site has been home to a school since 1794, and the current building has sections that were built in 1956 and 1994.
The Lyme School has grown by 45 students since Valence was hired as principal eight years ago and now boasts an enrollment of 202.
In addition to the surge in numbers, education needs have changed.
“With computer technology, foreign language, and special education — those programs require space,” Valence said.
“Philosophically, the school has always been committed to art, to teaching students where they are, to breaking students into small groups,” he continued. “The new space will allow us to do it more efficiently and more effectively.”
The costs of the energy upgrades, the new roof, windows and boilers, will determine the final price tag of project. Now, school officials peg the cost between $3 million and $3.2 million.
However, an ongoing fundraising effort and money from the maintenance fund will offset that total, leaving the community to finance less than $3 million though taxes, Valence estimated.
School officials said the impact on the tax rate if the bond were approved has not been determined, but they hope to have a number soon.
“There are so many variables right now, from interest rates to final costs of the project,” School Board Chairman Mark Schiffman said.
Schiffman added that exact figures should be determined by the end of the month. Part of that discussion will occur at the bond meeting next week.
This year, he said, $236,000 went toward previously approved capital projects that have bonds that are almost paid in full, the two trailers housing classrooms behind the school, and the money that was set aside into the building repair fund.
Two years from now, the board anticipates, the annual amount needed to finance the proposed bond will be between $195,000 and $235,000 a year. “We’ll be dedicating less money to the building than what we did last year,” Schiffman said.
Along walls lined with student paintings and paper snowflakes Valence pointed out his own handiwork — carpentry projects undertaken to save space and money. The last few summers, he’s spent his time constructing wooden cubbies outside one elementary classroom and transforming storage closets into faculty offices.
Valence said school officials had tried to make-do without having to seek a renovation, but the time had come.
“We’ve done everything we could to avoid this happening,” he said. “The last thing a principal wants to do is a building project — it takes so much time.”
Schiffman also said the current proposal was the best the school could come up with.
“We spent quite a bit of time listening and talking to people since last year, coming up with a plan that would cost less in spite of the fact that construction costs are going up,” he said. “And we’re very happy with this plan.”