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October 23. 2012 11:20PM

Joint meeting tonight in Claremont

CLAREMONT — The city council and the school board plan to meet tonight to discuss their shared priorities.

The joint public meeting is set to start at 6:30 p.m. in the John Goodrich Business Room at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center on South Street.

Mayor James Neilsen IV said Tuesday he is concerned the meeting would focus on the school board’s reintroduction of a Stevens High School building renovation project for this March’s vote, but school board Chairman Richard Seaman said it would be a broader discussion to coordinate city and school board objectives.

The city council and the school board have a shared interest since city education plays a vital role in Claremont’s economic development, that city officials have been working to revitalize for several years, Seaman said.

Supporting the schools board’s education and facility improvement objectives is the last key piece to the years of work on the city’s part to bolster Claremont’s economic development, Seaman said. “It’s a critical part of that foundation.”

Both bodies, though, have failed to meet more than twice in the past 10 years, Neilsen said.

“The last time the school and city met at a meeting was six years ago,” Neilsen said. “They’ve had two joint meetings in 10 years.”

Neilsen said the school board is moving quickly to place a $17 million bond on the March ballot to renovate Stevens High School and even hired an architect for the project at a meeting on Monday.

Instead of presenting voters with a hefty bond this spring, it would be better to craft a five- to seven-year capital improvement plan over the next year and reintroduce the bond in 2014, Neilsen said.

“I want success, and if success means we need to wait a year so we can address the three elementary schools and the middle school, then I think that’s success,” Neilsen said. “We want to convey to voters that this is just a step in the process.”

Three years ago, a $24 million bond for the renovation failed by one vote at the polls. Because of promised state aid, the renovation would only have cost the school district $17 million.

Since losing the state aid after that vote, the school board has cut back the project to keep the financial impact the same as proposed three years ago, Neilsen said.

Because of the needed high school building upgrade, the school district has been warned the Stevens could lose its state accreditation, Seaman said.

He said while the school board is moving forward with reintroducing the school renovation bond for this March, tonight’s meeting would encompass a wide range of city/school district issues.

“We’re all good people that are all focused on the same thing for the city of Claremont,” Seaman said. “What are those priorities and how do we coordinate them so we can build upon each other’s energies and efforts.”


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