SALEM — Selectmen have rejected a proposal to endorse the $75 million high school renovation project.
The board voted, 4-1, Monday against Selectman Michael Lyons’ motion to back the project, which goes before voters in March.
But some selectmen said that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t support the renovation. They just don’t thing a think a town board should be weighing in on a school district project.
“The board doesn’t usually take positions on the school budget items,” Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr. told his colleagues. “I think we have our own issues to deal with.”
Allowing selectmen to decide whether they support a school project would be a precedent, McBride said. Each board member should make his own private decision, he said.
“Whether I support the high school or not is irrelevant,” McBride said.
Selectmen Patrick Hargreaves, Stephen Campbell and James Keller joined McBride in voting against Lyons’ proposal, but did not elaborate on their positions at the meeting.
Lyons sought the board’s support for the plan after recently touring Salem High School, one of the district’s few remaining schools slated for renovation. The Career and Technical Education Center at the school would also be upgraded.
Each of the town’s eight public schools is at least 50 years old and none had received major upgrades until the last three years.
Three of the six elementary schools were renovated two years ago and $16 million in work is being done this year at Fisk, Soule and Haigh schools.
That leaves only the high school and Woodbury Middle School. Renovations at the middle school are next in line after work is completed at Salem High, according to Superintendent Michael Delahanty.
Lyons told selectmen renovating the high school is a top priority.
“I believe the single most important item on our side of the street is the high school renovations,” he said. “I believe the board supports it and we should instruct the Budget Committee representative to support it at the Budget Committee vote.”
The Budget Committee will meet Jan. 15 and 16 to consider town and school district warrant articles. A public hearing and final committee vote on the $75 million project are to take place Jan. 16.
The Board of Selectmen’s representative to the Budget Committee is Campbell, who often disagrees with Lyons on issues.
Campbell and Keller said yesterday although they do not think selectmen should take a formal position on the school project, they have yet to decide if they back the proposed warrant article. Hargreaves could not be reached for comment.
“I do support the idea of renovating the high school,” Keller said. “The question is whether the cost is prohibitive or not.”
Campbell said Lyons’ proposal represented a lack of trust in his ability to decide what’s best for the town. But Lyons said late yesterday it was not a personal attack against Campbell — he just thought the board needed to voice its opinion on the project.
Salem will lose in $11 million in state funding for the project if it’s not done in the next year, Lyons said. The town’s failure to reconstruct Stiles Road in 2011 caused that project’s cost to increase by $214,000, he said. The work was finally done last year.
“I think it’s pretty obvious we have to do this project,” Lyons said.