By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — As residents sat in the Salem High School auditorium and listened to a plan to renovate three elementary schools last year, the presentation was interrupted by a loud thud.
A tile had fallen from the ceiling in the hallway — just as residents were being told of the urgent need to upgrade the schools. But Salem High School wasn’t part of the renovation plan then.
This year, it is.
A small crowd turned out at the school last night for a School Board public hearing on a $74.7 million proposal to renovate Salem High and its Career to Education Center.
Although only four of the 15 people in the audience spoke, including Selectman Michael Lyons, their message was strong.
“I’m in support of it,” said Stephen Devito of Waldron Road. “It’s a no-brainer.”
Brady Avenue resident Susan Stanganelli, the mother of two middle school students, agreed.
“I’m definitely in favor of this,” she said. “I still feel strongly this something we need to do for our town.”
Matthew Norcross, a father of three and Salem High’s school resource officer, spoke of the need for upgrades at the 45-year-old school.
When the school was used as a shelter during the ice storm five years ago, the plan was to allow residents to shower there, he said.
But the American Red Cross disagreed.
“The Red Cross said, ‘They can’t shower here,’” Norcross recalled. “There was a hole in the ceiling and tiles falling down.”
Norcross said students from other schools comment on the building’s condition when they come for sporting events. That has a big impact on student morale, he said
“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “I hope people go out and vote for this.”
Lyons said he backs the project, but not the cost.
“I’m in favor of renovating it,” he said. “I just don’t like the numbers.”
There was no opposition to the plan as School Board Chairman Bernard Campbell opened and closed the half-hour public hearing. Residents were encouraged to stop off at Town Hall to voice their support to the Budget Committee later in the evening.
The committee was casting its final votes on whether to recommend support of the town and school warrant articles at the polls in March.
Voters will be asked to approve $64.9 in bonding over three years. The 25-year bond would have an interest rate of between 3 and 3.5 percent.
The district would receive $10 million in state aid for the project. School officials have said that funding would be lost if the project is not approved this year.
Principal Tracy Collyer said yesterday the building desperately needs an overhaul.
Students and staff continue to dodge falling ceiling tiles, there are cracks in the walls and the roof leaks, she said.
“We know when the snow starts to melt and it rains, get the buckets out,” Collyer said.
Classrooms are too small and some don’t have natural light, she said. Modular classrooms are needed.
“The building is structurally sound, but it’s nearly 50 years old,” Collyer said. “It’s starting to show its age.”
Campbell and Superintendent of Schools Michael Delahanty said they hope more residents turn out for two public presentations on the project.
They will be held at the school Jan. 22 and Feb. 3.