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February 13. 2014 9:51PM

Hollis residents divided on school proposal

HOLLIS — Local parents had a lot to say Wednesday night during a public hearing on the extensive renovations and expansions proposed for Hollis Brookline High School.

A final vote on the plan will take place next month.

The proposed article includes a $5,520,000 bond to fund an addition to the high school and build a multi-purpose turf field, as well as provisions for improvements to the existing facility, fields, parking lot and surrounding infrastructure.

A three-story addition to the high school would be built in the space adjacent to the cafeteria, which would also be expanded.

School officials said there might be some state building aid available to assist with the project, though it's too soon to tell.The first year's payment on the 20-year bond would be $143,000.

The district's Budget Committee doesn't support the item, with some members noting the high cost and the fact that several large projects are lumped together in one warrant article.

The bond as proposed represents lengthy efforts on the part of the district's athletic facilities study committee, the state School Administrators Association and interim Superintendent John Moody.

Consultants from Hunter Construction, the company that built the original high school, also gave input into the process.

Supporters of the budget item noted the high school is currently at 98 percent capacity, leaving little wiggle room for specific space needs.

Many Hollis and Brookline residents attending the public hearing inside Hollis Brookline Middle School this week offered their own thoughts on the matter.

Peter Baker said he'd prefer to see such large projects appear as separate warrant articles.

"Some of the items on this list are kind of unpalatable," Baker said. "But there are others that I kind of like."

Eric Powers said he was hesitant to support a 20-year bond, noting, "Some of the items this bond includes aren't going to last 20 years."

"I just don't think now is the time for this," he added. "Some people are really hurting right now and many jobs have been lost recently."

Resident Adelaide Saunders agreed.

"If we fall behind on (a bond), it would take us a long time to catch up," Saunders said. "I do think if this bond item could be broken up into separate sections, it would have a much greater chance of passing."

Andrew Carr offered a different perspective.

"Right now we have the ability to work in a favorable debt market," Carr said. "So I think this just makes good business sense and would actually be a prudent way to handle the situation."

Brookline father Joseph Walsh, whose son plays football at the high school, said the current sports fields present a safety concern.

"And I've never seen such a small cafeteria in my life," Walsh said. "We need this field, we need the education space."

Fellow sports parent Jennifer MacLeod agreed there's a need for an updated playing field.

"Our fields are by far the worst," she said. "It's not an issue about keeping up with Bedford or Oyster River. It's about safety. I worry about twisted ankles."

The bond item will be further debated at the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School Board's annual meeting on Monday, March 3. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the middle school.

Voting on all warrant items will take place at Town Meeting, held at Hollis Brookline High School, on Wednesday, March 12.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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