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March 27. 2014 8:01PM

Hollis voters reject school proposal

HOLLIS — A bond that would have allowed for an addition at Hollis/Brookline Cooperative High School and an improved sports field was defeated by voters attending Wednesday night’s continued annual meeting.

The amended version of Article 2, a $2.4 million proposal for the construction of additional classroom and cafeteria space as well as a revamped athletic field and improvements to the existing high school facility, was rejected during a ballot vote following a lengthy debate inside the high school.

This week’s negative vote was the second time Hollis and Brookline voters said no to school expansions this month.

On March 3, the initial $5.6 million bond for school improvements was also rejected, though the majority of voters later made the move to reconsider the matter.

The most recent bond presented came in significantly lower as it lacked the originally proposed synthetic turf field and revamped high school parking lot.

“We’ve basically started from scratch again,” meeting moderator Jim Murphy said at the start of Wednesday’s meeting.

Murphy said both the Budget Committee and School Board supported the modified bond. A two-thirds majority vote was required for Article 2 to pass.

School Board Chairman Tom Solon said he supported the bond, noting the high school’s current space concerns.

The school is facing probation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) if it fails to address its space limitations this school year.

“Accreditation matters,” Solon said. “We’ve maintained it for many years and the loss of it would be very different than if we had never had it.”

School Board officials further noted that about two-thirds of the high school students are on a sports team and the school’s fields are in rough shape.

A motion by Brookline resident Paul Valente to postpone a decision and instead open up an all-day poll at the high school over the weekend drew much discussion, but was ultimately shot down.

Some residents, including Hollis resident Kathy Lewis, noted citizens had already spent plenty of time debating the topic.

“We’ve already been sprung with multiple meetings,” Lewis said. “I had to cancel plans so I could be here tonight.”

Budget Committee Chairman Darlene Mann said the 10-year bond would have resulted in a $14 annual impact on the average Hollis homeowner, and an $18 annual impact on the average Brookline homeowner.

Over the entire life of the bond, the total impact would have been $563 for a Hollis citizen and $754 for a Brookline citizen, Mann said.

Student Grant Johnson, who serves as the School Board’s student liaison, spoke in favor of Article 2.

“For the sake of our schools, the community and the kids, I ask you to support this bond,” he said.

Grant’s father, Ken Johnson of Brookline, echoed his son’s sentiments.

The elder Johnson, a longtime teacher and principal in the state, said he has seen what effective schools can do.

“They draw great teachers and help build vibrant towns,” Ken Johnson said. “I’ve seen towns wither and die when the town’s core, the school, is not supported.”

Still others, like Jim Solinas, said they didn’t feel the bond was necessary.

“We have 98 percent of our students going to college, many of them in the top 300 schools,” the Brookline resident said. “All the while, these past eight years, we’ve been dealing with NEASC.”

School officials admitted that an expansion wouldn’t automatically guarantee that the high school’s NEASC accreditation is renewed next year, though they did feel it was an important step in addressing major issues.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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