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January 11, 2013

Salem budget panel backs school upgrades

Recommends $17M renovation plan

SALEM — A year ago, voters rejected a $21.5 million plan to upgrade Fisk, Soule and Haigh elementary schools.

But if everyone at Town Hall last night had their way, those three schools will soon be renovated.

Residents urged the Budget Committee to back a new, less expensive renovation plan — proposed in two warrant articles — that allocates $17 million for improvements, including a $16.2 million bond.

“I think both are important for the future of our town,” said Sherry Kilgus-Kramer, president of Strengthen Our Schools. “I hope you can find it in your hearts and minds to support both.”

Kilgus-Kramer said the schools are crowded and have makeshift classrooms. She has two children who attend Soule.

“A cafeteria is no place to have a gym class,” she said. “You just shouldn’t have class in hallways and closets.”

Resident Kristine Nippert agreed.

“Well-maintained and renovated schools will help this community thrive,” she said. “People don’t want to come to a community where their children are educated in hallways, in closets.”

The committee voted 8-0 to recommend residents approve the $16.2 million bond in March. They also supported the second warrant article — a proposal to spend an additional $805,237 at Haigh — and endorsed a citizens petition article seeking $679,000 for a multipurpose room at Soule.

But talk of possibly closing Haigh because of declining enrollment and doubling the proposed tax increase by building the multipurpose room brought criticism from Stephen Campbell, the Board of Selectmen’s representative to the committee.

“I do believe the Haigh School is going to end up closed sooner or later,” he said. “The question is, ‘Why would you do this now?’”

Committee member Dane Hoover agreed it would be best to wait because of the school’s uncertain future.

“By the time it’s done, there will be 200 less students in the system,” he said.

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