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Salem voters to consider $16m in school upgrades

SALEM - Heeding the words of concerned parents, the budget committee gave its support to two warrant articles funding long-awaited school improvements. Both items will now go before voters on March 12.

The articles include a $15.2 million bond warrant for renovations and additions to Fisk, Soule and Haigh elementary schools and an additional $805,237 warrant to remove asbestos, replace ceilings and add a new HVAC system to the aging Haigh School.

Several parents voiced hearty support for the two articles during Thursday night's budget committee meeting. Surry Lane resident Sherry Kilgus-Kramer said she felt both items were "very, very important for the future of the town."

The Salem mother said the renovation needs are particularly timely in the wake of the Newtown shootings, as safety and security issues are on everyone's mind. "People need to know we're taking all the measures we can within our budget," Kilgus-Kramer said.

Adding to the current safety compromises are the lack of adequate storage space and the current practice of using a multi-purpose room to serve as both a cafeteria and a gymnasium. "A cafeteria is just no place for a gym class," Kilgus-Kramer said. "And we shouldn't be having classes in hallways and closets. This is a big safety issue."

Kristine Nippert, who has children attending Soule School, voiced similar words of support. "These renovations will provide needed space for instruction and will also address security issues," Nippert said. "Over and above the academic benefits, renovations for these facilities will offer community benefits such as increased home values, community pride and a driving force for businesses thinking of coming to Salem. Well-maintained schools make a community thrive."

David Carney, who coaches basketball teams at both Soule and North Salem schools, noted the difference between the former and the latter.

"I think there's a fallacy in the thought process that education stops with the last bell of the school day," Carney said. "But I think everyone had a favorite coach growing up, who taught them right from wrong."

Carney noted that since North Salem School was renovated, the added space has allowed for "the luxury of an afterschool basketball program like we never could have done before."

Article 2 includes two additional classrooms, added instruction space, a renewed staff room and library at Fisk School; a gym addition, improved entrance and additional instruction space at Soule School; and revamped security systems, sprinklers, new ceilings, a new fire alarm system, new lighting and roof repairs at Haigh School.

Salem's School Deliberative Session will take place Thursday, Feb. 7 at Salem High School.

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