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Lyme to Vote On School Renovation

$3.6 Million Proposal Would Add Second Story to Building

The Lyme School Meeting will be held at Lyme Elementary School on March 7 at 6 p.m. The Town Meeting will be held at the Lyme Community Gymnasium on March 12 at 9 a.m. with voting by ballot on four articles from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Lyme — Big decisions are on the horizon this year in a town that is perhaps best known in the Upper Valley to have a largely unchanging landscape.

Nearly two decades after Lyme Elementary was last renovated, the school warrant features a $3.6 million proposal that would transform part of it into a two-story structure before the start of the next school year.

If approved, the project would add an estimated $180 to the annual school tax bills on a home valued at $250,000.

The tax rate isn’t expected to increase by much on the town’s side of things, where voters will be asked to decide the fate of a zoning amendment that would allow for more development near the common, along with a slew of spending articles on March 12.

The school meeting where voters will decide whether to borrow millions of dollars for the renovation project is scheduled for March 7.

School Board Chairman Mark Schiffman cited construction costs, low interest rates on borrowing and the soon-to-be repaid 1994 school renovation bond as the economic rationale driving this year’s proposal.

“In addition to that, we have about 30 more kids than the school can really comfortably handle,” he said. “Those were issues that we tried to delay dealing with until our bond was retired.”

The 1994 school bond, which contributes 24 cents to annual school taxes — or $60 per year for a home assessed at $250,000 — is slated to be paid off in the next two years.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that the time is right for the town’s next major school upgrade.

Tim Cook is a former construction foreman who has resided in Lyme for three-plus decades. He said that while he agreed with the need to expand classroom space at the elementary school, “Overall, I think they’re rushing it a little bit.”

“I would really like to see them wait a year and get more of their ducks in a row, as far as planning and just lining things up,” he said.

The Lyme Elementary renovation plan would create 10,000 square feet of new space without changing the building’s footprint by adding a second story to the Laura Barnes wing of the school. It would also improve the school’s accessibility for the disabled and “fix issues with the kitchen,” according to an informational sheet distributed by the School Board.

The renovation would ultimately add four classrooms to the current layout, allowing for the removal of two classroom trailers. Schiffman has said the school likely would require a third trailer if the construction bond failed.

Schiffman said that the new classroom spaces would vary in size and allow teachers to “increase focus on differentiation as well as outcomes for each student,” which he said was especially important in an education environment where more emphasis is being placed on giving students equal opportunities to learn.

“In order to do that, you need spaces,” he said. “Not just large spaces — small spaces and medium-sized spaces. Our school is not equipped to do that. That’s a change we need to make.”

While enrollment has dropped in many school districts across New Hampshire, Lyme’s school district is one of the few in the state that has seen its enrollment consistently climb.

In arguing for the renovation this year, School Board members have cited an 8 percent rise in construction costs they are anticipating for 2014. But Cook, who worked in the construction business for 16 years, said that the cost of construction has been steadily dropping each year since 2010, and nothing he has read in trade articles indicated a sudden rise for 2014.

“I’m not convinced that it would cost more to wait a year to do it,” he said.

If voters approve the renovation bond, the tax impact for the first year would be an additional $160 on a home with an assessed value of $250,000, and $20 more, $180 per year, after that. The current school portion of the municipal property tax rate is $5.24 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The school’s proposed operating budget of $5.5 million represents a decrease in total expenditures from the current year’s budget. Schiffman said there is a potential tax increase despite that drop because of changes in revenue from other sources. He could not say with certainty how that could impact taxes.

“I really just don’t know honestly where we’re going to end up there,” he said. “The relative impact of that is minor compared to other issues related to building.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

CORRECTION

Estes and Gallup Inc. was chosen for construction management of the proposed $3.6 million Lyme Elementary School renovation project through a competitive bid process that involved five contractors. The construction would add a second story to a portion of the Laura Barnes Wing of the school and would require the razing of an area making up approximately a quarter of the school’s floor space. An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the bid process and the extent of the construction.

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