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January 15. 2014 10:35PM

Mascoma district towns to vote on high school renovation bond

CANAAN — The Mascoma School District is asking Canaan, Dorchester, Enfield, Grafton and Orange voters at the annual meeting March 11 to approve a bond article for a $21.5 million renovation of Mascoma Valley Regional High School.

This is the third time the district will vote on the renovation, said Patrick Andrew, Mascoma School District superintendent.

If approved, the school district would take out three loans totaling $1,373,987.

The bond article needs three-fifths of the vote to pass, Andrew said.

"We need a 60 percent super majority to go forward with that bond," Andrew said. "It's for a comprehensive renovation of the existing Mascoma high school. It deals with improving the instructional spaces and creating enough spaces for all the teachers, students and programs. It improves access to the campus. It improves parking and some of the security to the building. It does some energy efficiency improvements to the building."

The 1963 facility was well-built, Andrew said, but the project has been a long time coming. Committees have been studying the issues the building has since the 1990s, he said. In 2008, voters said no in a vote to construct a new high school building.

"That didn't get any traction with the community. They were interested in renovating the existing high school," Andrew said.

Last year, voters came close to passing the renovation, but the bond article only received 59 percent of the vote.

"Last year, there was a really strong community effort, and people were crestfallen when it fell short," Andrew said. "So out of last year's feedback, we made the auditorium smaller and did a few other things to change what we were doing so it's a little less money."

The savings from design cuts were lessened by a rise in construction costs, Andrew said.

"The feedback we got, people thought the audition was too big and too much for the project. So we cut that down," Andrew said.

The auditorium, however, is a key part of the project because it is needed for the music and theater departments, which now have to get special permission from the local fire department to use the school's old wooden stage in the gymnasium and also have a firefighter attend any performances. Removing the old stage also would create more space for athletics, Andrew said.

If approved, the school district would take out three loans over the next three years from Mascoma Savings Bank, which is offering the district varying interest rates that when calculated together equal 4 percent, Andrew said.

The first loan would be for $30,902, having a tax rate impact of a few cents per thousand of assessed value for the towns.

"We only need to borrow a small amount the first year for some permitting and to get some other things done," Andrew said.

In 2015, the loan would be for $530,995, and in 2016, the loan would be for $812,090.

After all three loans are taken out in 2016, the tax impact per $1,000 of assessed value for the towns would be $1.64 for Canaan, $1.03 for Dorchester, $1.05 for Enfield, $1.21 for Grafton and $1.74 for Orange.

The loans would be paid off in 25 years, Andrew said.While some community members have argued now is not the time for the renovation, a group of business leaders in the district support it, saying quality schools attract businesses and keep property values up, Andrew said.
In a letter last month, the New England Association of School and Colleges said it would give "due and appropriate consideration to downgrading the school's accredited status unless the project receives funding."

mpierce@newstote.com


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