Support for Salem school renovations shown at deliberative session
SALEM -- Residents voiced strong support for an extensive school renovations plan during the annual School Deliberative Session at Salem High School on Thursday night.
About 200 of the town's 19,000 or so voters attended the meeting.
Originally proposed at $16,205,153, Article 2 asks voters to approve the design, construction and original equipping of additions and renovations to Fisk and Soule elementary schools, and the renovation and repair of the Haigh Elementary School.
Due to available funds, the item would have zero tax impact in the coming year. The item was moved forward, unchanged, to the March ballot.
School officials noted that the three schools in question were built between 1955 and 1963, and haven't been significantly renovated in 50 years or more.
Article 3 asks voters to approve the initially proposed $805,237 for the upgrades of Haigh School's HVAC system. The passage of Article 3 passes next month would make Article 4 null and void, school officials said.
Like the preceding article, the bonded Article 3 would have zero tax impact next year due to available funds.
School Board Chairman Pam Barry said the board felt the project "is in the community's best interest," and school board members agreed it was best to offer up the Haigh School renovations as a separate article in hopes at least one of the articles would pass.
Both the School Board and Budget Committee supported Articles 2 and 3.
Resident Kristine Nippert spoke in favor of the school renovations.
"None of these schools currently meet safety requirements right now," she said. "As citizens, it's our responsibility to provide spaces where our children can thrive. And classes being taught in hallways and closets just doesn't cut it."
Resident Sherri Kilgus-Kramer agreed.
"We have inconsistency in our schools right now," she said. "Right now some of our schools are renovated and some aren't."
Selectman Stephen Campbell said that while he supports Article 2, he doesn't support the separate Haigh School article and referred to the declining enrollments in Salem and previous discussions that Haigh School could one day be closed.
"Putting another $805,000 into a building when we don't know what it's going to be used for: I just can't support it," Campbell said. "I think we shouldn't ask for things that may not be necessary."
Kilgus-Kramer argued that, "there are still children at Haigh School right now."
Nippert said the building's air quality is currently poor and the system needs to be fixed regardless of what the future holds for Haigh School.
School Board Vice Chairman Patricia Corbett concurred.
"We are currently housing children in this facility and there are currently no plans to close this facility right now," Corbett said. " It's a viable building in this community."
Resident Jane Lang, who has lived in town for a decade, said she feels it's "very important to invest in the community" and also voiced support for the article.
Article 3 was moved to the March ballot without amendments
Also moved forward was Article 4, the district's proposed $62,247,816 operating budget.
School Board member Michael Carney Jr. said the district is now responsible for funding over $700,000 in retirements and benefits due to the state's recent downshifting of costs.
A citizen's petition article asks voters to approve the construction of a $697,000 multi-purpose room at Soule school, should the school construction item fail at the polls.
The passage of all school articles would increase the tax rate by 38 cents per thousand dollars: a three percent increase on the school tax rate.
Voting on all school warrant articles will take place on March 12. Polling hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Fisk, Lancaster and North Salem schools and at the Salem Senior Center.