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February 8, 2013

Salem voters consider school renovations

SALEM — A year ago, none of the more than 200 voters at the district's deliberative session spoke in favor of a $21.5 million plan to renovate three elementary schools.

They didn't speak against it, either. But voters made their voices heard loud and clear when they defeated the plan at the polls. It was only a year after residents embraced a similar proposal to upgrade three other elementary schools.

At least a few of the 213 voters at last night's deliberative session at Salem High School expressed their support for new proposals to renovate the Fisk, Soule and Elementary schools. They backed — without amending — those two warrant articles and three others residents will vote on March 12.

"We absolutely need these renovations," resident Sherry Kilgus-Kramer told school officials. "We have inequities in our elementary schools."

While the Lancaster, Barron and North Salem schools are newly renovated, the three others need major improvements to meet safety codes, architect Chris Drobat said.

"The schools continue to deteriorate," he said.

His firm, Lavallee Bresinger Architects of Manchester, was hired by the school district for the proposed project. He outlined the proposals for voters last night. If approved, the work would begin immediately, he said.

The renovations are requested in two warrant articles. One calls for a $16.2 million bond to upgrade Fisk, Soule and Haigh while the other seeks an additional $805,237 in improvements for Haigh.

That's because the School Board has considered possibly closing Haigh in the wake of declining student enrollment. The board decided to hold off on a full $5.5 million renovation of the school.

The 20-year bond would only fund $369,682 in work at Haigh in case it closes. The $805,237 would be spent to continue maintaining it as a school.

"We believed it was in the community's best interest to offer this project in a separate article," board Vice Chairman Patricia Corbett said.

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