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Unity Residents Split on Bond to Finish School

Unity — Mixed opinions at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting portends a divided house Saturday at the annual school meeting when residents will decide whether to approve a $2.75 million bond to finish the new K-8 elementary school.

Some of the roughly 50 people at the board meeting thought there were too many unanswered questions about other options if the bond is defeated and about the extent of work still needed to finish the school.

But SAU 6 administrators and a number of residents said defeating the bond will cost taxpayers even more.

According to SAU 6 figures, if the bond and the $3.6 million budget pass Saturday, the school tax rate is estimated to increase 89 cents to $18.90 per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. But if the bond is defeated and the town has to send its 120 students to other districts the estimated tax rate for next year increases to $25.10. It was also stated that if construction is halted, the town would lose 45 percent of its state aid, more than $2 million, on the original $4.7 million bond from August 2010.

Resident Adam Boardman, who has regularly attended the board meetings on the school construction, said the annual payments of $207,000 on the new bond would be partially offset by the state aid the town would continue to receive if it approves the bond and finishes the school.

“We are looking at another $100,000 a year (over 20 years) to finish the school,” said Boardman, adding that the new school problems have given the town a lot of bad publicity, but it could get worse if the town refuses to finish the project. “If we throw away $5 million, we will be the laughing stock of this state.”

Boardman also read a letter received Monday by the administration made available to residents from the Department of Education that suggested, though did not definitively state, the additional bond could also be eligible for state aid so long as the money was needed to finish the work and not correct past mistakes.

The School Board and administration promised that Trumbull-Nelson, the construction firm brought in to finish the project, would attend Saturday’s meeting to provide answers to the questions asked Tuesday night.

Resident Joe Warner called upon the board to come to the annual meeting prepared to present a detailed explanation — including some history — on the project, to give residents a clear understanding of why the bond is being requested.

Laura French was one of several who said there are too many unknowns.

“The only thing that is crystal clear is this situation is way too rushed,” French said. “It is too much money to rush a decision.”

But parent Toni Chase said it would be “crazy to throw up our hands and walk away.

“It needs to be finished for our kids. I think we owe it to the kids and community to get this done,” Chase said.

Several people who attended the meeting said they were in the construction field and toured the building last Sunday. They said Trumbull Nelson, which took over management of the project from architect Scott Vaughn, is not fully aware of the building’s problems.

Boardman strongly questioned that claim.

“I’m pretty certain they are not going to ruin their reputation to dig us out of a hole,” Boardman said.

At an earlier meeting, Ron Bauer of Trumbull-Nelson said the building is solidly constructed.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.