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Lebanon voters kill upgrades to school buildings 

  • A Ward 3 voter completes their ballot at City Hall in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. The ballot included two articles to spend $20 million renovating the city’s school buildings and $9.4 million for an auditorium at Lebanon High School, respectively. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Stickers wait at the exit for Ward 3 voters at City Hall in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Lebanon voted on renovations for the school district as well as seats for the School Board. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Annette Langley gets her ballot at the United Methodist Church in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Lebanon voters were asked whether to approve a $43.7 million School District budget and to elect three people to the School Board. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • City election official for Ward 2, Ruth Cioffredi, collects a voter's ballot folder at the United Methodist Church in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Lebanon polls were open from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. "You get to see your neighbors and catch up," said Cioffredi. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 12, 2019

LEBANON — For the second straight year, proposals to upgrade the city’s schools and build a new auditorium at Lebanon High School have fallen short at the polls.

Residents on Tuesday voted, 891-713, in favor of the School Board’s “modernization” plans, which called for nearly $20 million in infrastructure spending in Lebanon’s schools, according to preliminary numbers posted on the city’s website.

However, at 55 percent, the vote was short of the 60 percent threshold needed to pass.

In an even stronger defeat, residents voted, 960-646, against a roughly $9.4 million, 775-seat auditorium expansion at Lebanon High School. That warrant article also required a 60 percent vote to pass because it called for long-term borrowing to finance the upgrades, but won only 40.2 percent support.

Both the school upgrades and auditorium project loomed large leading up to Tuesday’s vote, as supporters and opponents sparred over whether the multimillion-dolllar price tag would be worthwhile.

“In my opinion, I think the School Board spends far too much money,” voter Annette Scott said while leaving the Lebanon United Methodist Church, the city’s Ward 2 polling place.

Scott, a senior citizen, said she was disappointed to see a modernization and auditorium plan so similar to what voters killed last year. The move makes her believe the School Board will continue pushing the project, regardless of what message residents send.

“I vote no, no, no because I know they’re going to come back with (more plans),” she said. “It’s inevitable that they’ll get their own way.”

The building proposals were similar to a single $29 million project that the School Board put forward last year. That initiative, which also included money for a new auditorium, also failed to reach the 60 percent needed and ended in an 820-768 vote last March.

School Board Chairman Adam Nemeroff said in an email that Tuesday’s vote will inform decisions going forward, and he expressed hope that state lawmakers will pass legislation to restore New Hampshire’s building aid program, which could contribute to future projects.

“I wish we got a stronger turnout for the elections overall given the more favorable weather this year,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, voters OK’d the school district’s $43.7 million budget in a 990-578 vote on Tuesday. The spending plan amounts to a 1.1 percent increase over the current year.

And three people were selected to fill seats on the School Board. Incumbent Tammy Begin received 1,088 votes to win another three-year term on the board, while newcomers Jenica Nelan and Martha DiDomenico garnered 861 and 853 votes respectively to earn seats.

They defeated former Planning Board member Carl Porter, who received 837 votes citywide.

Voters at the polls on Tuesday expressed mixed views of the proposed building projects. Some said the building plans were unnecessary and would contribute to already-high taxes, while others argued the upgrades are needed to continue attracting families to Lebanon.

Dave Robinson, whose wife works at Lebanon High School, said he voted for both the upgrades to Lebanon’s two elementary schools and the high school, and for the auditorium, to help students struggling with antiquated buildings and performance spaces.

“You can’t stop progress and I think you need to keep up with the times and modernize,” he said. “I don’t think that’s excessive.”

Without an auditorium, Lebanon High School doesn’t have a space where the entire student body can meet, Robinson said. “It seems to me like it’s needed,” he said.

Lauren Simano also voted for both articles, saying the investment in Lebanon schools could draw more young people to stay long-term in the community.

“The more people you can get involved in the community at a younger age, the more likely they are to stay,” said Simano, 27.

However, many voters had their reservations. Bob Michenfelder said he would vote for the building upgrades but not the new auditorium.

“Sometimes I think the School Board overreaches a little,” he said, adding that officials mean well but are competing for tax dollars with other expenses, such as the city’s ongoing infrastructure projects.

“I’m not averse to doing some upgrades as long as they’re handled correctly and budgeted properly,” he said.

There were no contested races on Lebanon’s municipal ballot, where four city councilors won re-election.

Karen Liot Hill received 1,297 votes in her quest for an at-large seat, while Clifton Below earned 459 for a Ward 3 seat, Shane Smith won 504 for a Ward 2 seat, and Sue Prentiss garnered 478 votes for re-election representing Ward 1.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.