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March 19. 2014 6:04PM

Unity School District voters to decide on $2.75 million bond to finish elementary school

CLAREMONT — Unity School District voters have an important bond vote to take Saturday that will determine the future of elementary school education in town, said School Superintendent Middletown McGoodwin.

The annual Unity School District Meeting is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Claremont Opera House.

If the proposed $2.75 million bond to finish the new elementary school is approved, it would guarantee Unity children would be in the new school by September, said McGoodwin.

If it is voted down, the school district would be faced with paying tuition and transporting students to another school district to be educated. As a result, all of the school’s employees would be laid off.

After many delays and the replacement of the former project manager, architect Scott Vaughn, McGoodwin said he understands the frustration and anger of some voters and that they have questions about where the construction project stands. However, not approving the bond would leave the community without a school and would cost taxpayers more.

McGoodwin said legal counsel is working to determine if any of the funds already spent on the project could be recouped through litigation.

The new project managers are Trumbull-Nelson Construction Company, Inc. and Banwell Architects.

“We’re confident that we have one of the best construction companies and architect firms in the state doing this project,” McGoodwin said.

Consequences of rejection

According to the SAU’s figures, Unity’s current school tax rate is $18.01. If the school bond is approved, the 2014-2015 school tax rate would increase to $18.90. If the school bond vote fails, 2014-2015 school tax rate would increase to $25.10.

A previous $4.7 million bond approved by voters four years ago for the project would also lose its state aid, 45 percent of the $4.7 million, if construction of the school stops, McGoodwin said.

“If you don’t finish the school, you don’t get a dime,” he said.

“You would think it would be a lot less expensive if you don’t approve the school bond, but it’s quite the opposite,” McGoodwin said. “More importantly … you’d have 120 children in the community being transported elsewhere. … They are so close it would really be a shame.”

The state Board of Education has informed the SAU this week that the new bond would be considered for additional state aid, he said.

Also about $900,000 in contributions from charitable groups accepted contingent on the finishing the project would have to be returned if the bond isn’t approved, he said.

Old school closed

In August 2010, voters approved a $4.7 million bond to build the new school for Unity children from kindergarten to Grade 8 at a special meeting after state officials ordered Unity Elementary School closed due to unresolved fire and building code violations.

Architect Scott Vaughn, who helmed the building project, said the new school would be complete and ready for students for the start of the 2012 school year. But when it wasn’t complete, the state Fire Marshal’s Office and Department of Education granted a one-year waiver of the fire code violations of the old elementary school so that it could be used for another year.

In March 2013, voters approved an additional $550,000 bond to fund what Vaughn said was unanticipated site work.

In July 2013, the state Fire Marshal’s Office placed a stop work order on construction, so the school building wasn’t ready last fall.

The old school building had been demolished over the summer so Claremont School District officials invited Unity students and staff to use space in Disnard Elementary School and Claremont Middle School, where they are currently.

In January with the stop work order still in place, the Unity School Board voted to replace Vaughn with construction company Trumbull-Nelson.

In February, the state Fire Marshal’s Office granted Trumbull-Nelson permission to resume construction.

However, Trumbull-Nelson says additional funds are required to finish the project and open the new school next fall.

More information about the project is available on the Unity Elementary School website under Unity School Building Construction Information. The Unity Elementary School website is www.edline.net/pages/UnityElementary.

mpierce@newstote.com


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