$20M school renovation bond fails by 47 votes

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The $20 million bond intended to pay for renovating the three school buildings of the Green Mountain Unified School District was narrowly defeated Tuesday evening by a vote of 808 in favor to 855 opposed, a defeat that school officials called “disappointing.”

GM Facilities Director Todd Parah (back to the camera) shows a group the high school's boiler room. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

GM Facilities Director Todd Parah (back to the camera) shows a small group the high school’s boiler room in an information tour in October. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

The lower vote totals may have been due to the fact that the bond ballot was not mailed out with the General Election ballot so that voters had to make an extra effort to go to their town clerk’s offices in Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester either for early voting or on Election Day. Although the school district is a municipality, it is not authorized under state law to mail out its own ballots, according to Chester Town Clerk Deb Aldrich.

Once the polls closed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, each town’s bond ballots were brought to Chester Town Hall and co-mingled prior to counting, in accordance with the terms of the articles of agreement that created the district in an Act 46 merger.

Representatives of three of the four town’s Board of Civil Authority were present in Chester to count the votes along with Amber Wilson, who serves as the clerk of the GMUSD board. A board of civil authority consists of justices of the peace, members of the select board and the town clerk.

The $20 million bond began as an “energy audit” conducted gratis by Energy Efficient Investments of Merrimack, N.H. After a couple of years of studying the three schools — Cavendish Town Elementary, Chester-Andover Elementary and Green Mountain High — EEI proposed $29 million in renovation work as well as a number of “wishes” expressed by school staff and administration. The GM board pared that down to around $19 million and, over the course of several meetings, added and subtracted projects to come up with the final number.

The high school was built at a cost of $3.2 million and opened in 1971. Little in terms of capital upgrades has been done in the intervening years.

On Tuesday night, Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Lauren Fierman called the vote was “so disappointing” but said that “the board will meet next week to look at next steps and regroup because these things still need to be fixed.”

GMUSD board chair Joe Fromberger of Andover  said that he too was disappointed, but that the need remains.

“Since we still have to do this work, I’m going to ask the board to go over it again to come up with another outline and a schedule for another vote,” said Fromberger.

Among the options the school has is to bring the bond back at Town Meeting Day in March or to bring a special election later in 2023. Fromberger noted that without the bond, the schools would likely have to budget for interim fixes that would not be needed had the renovation been approved.

Another component of a second vote could be a better outreach program since several poll workers noted that many voters were unaware of the question and did not feel equipped to weigh in on it.

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  1. Barre Pinske says:

    My question is are renovations to the structures the best thing to do to begin with? I own a huge old building the cost of fixing or retrofitting a large structures is often more expensive then building new. The good is it’s there so you have something as you fix it but if I had the money I’d have something new.
    I’m going to make a joke but in humor there is an element of truth. It seems to me with kids having so much energy we are making a mistake by drugging them to calm them down and sit still we should put them on exercise bike style desks that can generate power to run the schools! That way if they choose to peddle, they would be much calmer naturally, feel valued and know that a little hard work can benefit everyone!
    On a more serious note we are not creating factory workers anymore you can pretty much get a college education on YouTube so the structure of classrooms with desks in rows, kids sitting still and paying attention for hours on end may need to be looked at too. If you have information at your fingertips to solve problems maybe life skills, being innovative, learning how to be productive members os society and get along with each other could be more important then sitting in a desk quietly with same age kids. We have a lot of physically and emotionally unhealthy people, drug dependent people, addiction and lost young people in society today the current generation seems to lack purpose could looking the costs of a school be tied in with how we teach? Perhaps the whole thing could less expensive with less rooms, larger lecture spaces, more space for exercise, learning and social interaction? Should skills like building, machining, robotics and being creative become more important? Larger lecture spaces could allow for bringing in people to share their life and cultural experiences that could be much better for motivated, educated and peaceful society. I’d like to know how the kids at Okemo Mountain School fair educationally they are spending a lot of time training are they still able to get good grades and how do they fair as adults? If we go to the Dr. and they say your heart is bad what do they suggest? You need to exercise, eat better, get off drugs and alcohol and occupy your mind with productive things. I vote for that for our kids so they learn to live that way as adults.

  2. Raymond Makul says:

    At no point were voters presented a cost/benefit analyses that compared the additional annual debt service cost against the alleged operating savings. We are in an environment of rising interest rates and rising energy costs. For residents concerned with their property tax bills, the lack of economic projections made this proposal hard to support.