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March 04. 2014 8:40PM

Hollis voters reject school expansion

HOLLIS — Following a lengthy debate, voters from the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School District rejected a proposed bond item that would have allowed for construction of a large addition on the high school along with a new turf athletic field.

Article 2, $5.2 million bond for the construction of a new addition to the high school as well as a multi-purpose athletic field, failed following a ballot vote on the floor of the district's annual meeting Monday night.

The item overwhelmingly failed. One thousand eighty-eight residents cast their ballots, with 360 voting in the items' favor and 727 voting "nay."

Article 15, a petitioned warrant article that would have changed the system used to determine how much each town pays in local school taxes was tabled by majority vote.

Hundreds of Hollis and Brookline citizens flooded the school gymnasium for Monday night's meeting, with both towns' respective sides of the room equally filled.

By the time voter registration completed well over an hour past the meeting's set starting time, more than 1,000 voters had signed in.

At 8:30 p.m., the parking lots at the high school and middle school were filled. District officials offered a shuttle to voters having to park down the street at Hollis Primary School.

Live streaming was eventually extended to the auditorium across the hall due to seating shortage in the gym.

School Board Chairman Tom Solan said the board had unanimously supported the bond item, though the budget committee did not.

"What we're talking about here is public education: a system intended for all the community and funded by the entire community," Solon said.

Solon added that the high school's current cafeteria was designed "for about 200 kids" but during a typical school day, 900 students use the room at various times.

Budget Committee member Raul Blanche said the committee took issue with the fact that the high school addition and the sports field were combined into a single package.

"I think this package is simply too big," Blanche said. "It needs to be split up.

According to Budget Committee Chair Darlene Mann, the item would have meant a 15 cent per $1,000 valuation increase in Brookline and an 8 cent per $1,000 valuation increase in Hollis.

A two-thirds ballot vote would have needed to happen for the item to pass, meeting moderator Jim Murphy said.

Hollis resident Basil Mason spoke against both the bond item and the citizen's petition.

"As a senior citizen, I demand you start looking at what's going on here. This would be a huge fiasco," Mason said. "As far as eating (referring to the cafeteria situation) goes, let's just put in a McDonald's. And if you want money for the fields, stick a collection budget at both ends of the field we have now and see how many people put money in it."

Brookline resident Eric Power, who organized the petition for Article 15, said his town "has been suffering from an unsustainable co-op tax burden."

Hollis resident Tom Gehan spoke against Article 15 and encouraged voters to table the item.

"As written, this article would shift up to $15 million in taxes to Hollis over the next five years," Gehan said. "Fairness is an opinion, not a measure. Since 2000, Brookline has grown twice as fast as Hollis."

Those in the audience appeared to agree, with a sea of blue voting cards held up high for a motion to table the topic altogether.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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