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Mascoma High Proposal Returns

Ballot voting for the Mascoma Valley Regional School District will be on Tuesday, March 11. Polls will be open in the following locations: Canaan Fire Station (8 a.m. to 7 p.m.); Dorchester Town Hall (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.); Whitney Hall Auditorium in Enfield (8 a.m. to 7 p.m.); Grafton Fire Station (8 a.m. to 7 p.m.); and Orange Town House (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.).

West Canaan — A proposal to renovate Mascoma Valley Regional High School will be on the ballot again this year, and supporters of the $21.5 million project are hoping that the third time is the charm.

This year’s plan is the slimmest yet and shaves several hundred thousand dollars off the proposal voters narrowly rejected last year. School officials say the project is long overdue for the 51-year-old building, and warn that if certain upgrades are not performed soon, the high school may lose its accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

“It’s not going to get any cheaper,” said Deb Ford, the district’s business administrator. “I think this is the time to do it.”

The project would replace outdated plumbing and electrical systems and expand the school’s footprint from 60,000 square feet to about 95,000. The extra space would house new classrooms, a bigger gymnasium and cafeteria, a new library, auditorium and reconfigure the front entrance to better handle traffic, among other changes.

Voters in the district’s five towns — Enfield, Canaan, Grafton, Dorchester and Orange — shot down a $23.8 million renovation bond in 2012 and a $21.8 million plan in 2013. Last year’s proposal came up fewer than 25 votes short of the necessary 60 percent needed to pass. A majority in Enfield and Canaan supported it, but the project failed to muster enough votes in Grafton, Dorchester and Orange to go forward.

Major differences between last year’s proposal and the one that voters will decide on March 11 include a smaller auditorium and cutting back on new technology equipment for classrooms.

Orange resident Bob Proulx said he hoped the changes would win enough support to pass.

“I hope people have changed their minds and would vote positive for that,” he said. “I think the school needs to be renovated.”

Still, the auditorium remains a sticking point for some people, including residents in towns where previous proposals have been shot down.

Orange resident Pat White said she believed the high school needed to be renovated, but still felt it was too much.

“It’s the auditorium where anybody I talk to seems to have the biggest problem,” White said. “They did decrease the size of the auditorium. But I would like to see education up-front more so than art. Art is important, but not more than education.”

The estimated tax impact of the 20-year bond would increase a little each year in the first three years and then level off.

Among Mascoma’s five towns, Orange stands to have the biggest tax impact from the renovations. It would be 4 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in the first year, another 67 cents in the second year and an additional $1.03 in the third year, accumulating to $1.74 per $1,000 of valuation through the remainder of the 20-year bond, or $348 annually on a $200,000 home.

Canaan would have a 4 cent increase in the first year, followed by a 63-cent hike and then another 97 cents, accumulating to $1.64 per $1,000, or $328 on a $200,000 home.

In Grafton, the first year would see a 3 cent increase in the first year, then 51 cents in the second and 77 cents in the third, coming to $1.31 per $1,000, or $262 on a $200,000 home.

Enfield would see a 2-cent hike in the first year, 41 cents in the second and 62 cents in the third, accumulating to $1.05 per $1,000, or $210 on a $200,000 home.

Dorchester would be the least affected, with a 2 cent increase in the first year, 40 cents in the second and 61 cents in the third, totaling $1.03, or $206 on a $200,000 home.

Still, some are concerned that any tax increase could be too much for Mascoma district residents to bear.

Canaan has two articles on this year’s Town Meeting Warrant, driven largely by the Mascoma bond proposal, that would give the elderly and disabled additional tax relief.

“There are some folks that, if they get any increase at all, they might be out of their house,” said Canaan Town Administrator Mike Samson.

There is a possibility that Mascoma could get state funds to help with the cost of repairs. New Hampshire currently has a moratorium on school building aid. But a bill before the House Finance Committee would require the state Department of Education provide aid for projects begun during the moratorium.

Ford, the business administrator, said no one was depending on that money for the renovation.

“We definitely are not planning on that to happen,” she said. “We are just expecting the state will not be very helpful on funding anything.”

Besides the school bond, voters also will consider a $22.8 million budget for 2014-2015. The spending plan is a 3.5 percent increase over the current year.

Ford declined to estimate the tax impact for the towns because fluctuating student numbers could throw off the calculations significantly, especially for the smaller towns, she said.

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.