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$18.6m school proposal survives in Alton

ALTON - Two amendments intended to give voters lower cost alternatives to a proposed $18.6 million Alton Central School renovation plan failed to pass at the Alton School District Deliberative Session on Saturday at Prospect Mountain High School.

This means that voters will decide on funding the renovation project at the polls by official ballot on Tuesday, March 12, at the high school. Of the town's 4,022 registered voters, 172 attended Saturday's session.

Warrant Article II asks voters to raise and appropriate $18,665,536 for "renovation, reconstruction, repairs and construction of an addition to the Alton Central School and for furnishing and equipment. Of that amount, the school board would bond $17,705,536 and pull the rest from an assortment of capital reserve funds.

The Alton School Board recommended the article by a 4-1 vote; the Alton Budget Committee split a vote to recommend, 3-3.

In explaining the rationale and background of the proposal, Steve Renner, a member of the volunteer Building and Grounds Committee, which has been working on addressing building, health and safety problems at the Central School for many years, said this year's proposal differs from a proposal that failed last year. It is less expensive, does not include a geothermal heating system and does not include a third floor. The renovation would address health and safety issues such as asbestos located in tiles under carpet in an older wing at the school; would remove five older and inefficient and modular classrooms and incorporate more classrooms into the renovation, and upgrade fire alarm systems to meet current code. Others at the meeting commented that the school's heating and cooling system is inefficient - or either too hot or too cold - and that the stench of sewage wafts in the area of the modular classrooms due to a problem with the system.

"The modular classrooms are an extreme security risk," added Renner. The addition of a gym would allow for expansion of the cafeteria, reducing the number of lunch periods from four to three.

Budget Committee member Barbara Howard said she was one of the three budget committee members who opposed Article II because of cost and timing.

"I felt the taxpayers can't bear the cost of the bond," she said. Renner would later say the school project would add about $1 per $1,000 of assessed value on property taxes. Howard said the district has no grants or no financial assistance for this project. She said taxpayers also face the burden of funding the state retirement program, which faces a $2.2 billion shortfall.

Dozens of residents, many of those with children in school and others without, spoke in favor of the $18.6 million plan. Those opposed were vocal, as well.

Raymond Howard made a motion to amend Article II down to $4,460,000 and to bond $3,500,00 and use $960,000 in funds set aside in capital reserve accounts for some renovations at the school. In a secret ballot, the motion failed, 107-51.

Warrant Article III, a petitioned warrant article proposed by school board member Steve Miller, asked whether voters would raise and appropriate $7 million to repair the roof, replace the modular classrooms and address safety and security issues at the Central School. Neither the budget committee nor the school board voted to recommend this article.

Miller said this article would give voters a choice.

"I don't believe an $18 million plan has a chance of passing," he said. Renovation proposals have failed in the past, he said, adding that voters shouldn't have to face an "all or nothing" deal.

Opponents of Article III said it was not well-planned and yet another Band-Aid approach to fixing ailments at the school. After lengthy debate and another secret ballot vote, a motion to amend Article III down to $1 passed by a vote of 74-59.

Voters will return to the polls on March 12 to vote on the school district ballot and officers at Prospect Mountain High School.

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