EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 10, 2010

Salem voters OK $22M in school renovations

Officials see a shift in attitude

By Jarret Bencks

SALEM — There has been a shift in attitude in Salem.

Voters approved a $22 million bond to renovate three district elementary schools yesterday. The article needed 60 percent approval to pass. It received 61 percent of the vote.

"It's incredibly encouraging. I think it's a positive step for the school district and a positive step for the town," Superintendent Michael Delahanty said last night. "It's just spectacular."

A total of 2,613 residents voted for the bond article; 1,653 voted no.

The renovations will be done to North Salem, Barron and Lancaster elementary schools. The district plans to break ground this summer, Delahanty said.

District officials will begin seeking out bond rates, and working with architects to finalize the plans in coming weeks, he said.

The bond will fund the first phase of a district master plan that includes renovations to all six town elementary schools and middle school. The renovations aim to make room for the district's kindergarten program, which opened this school year, and bring buildings up to code.

Nine portable classrooms are being used at elementary schools to provide enough space for kindergarten. The schools also lack sprinkler systems and do not have space dedicated to special education and occupational therapy. These programs are run out of closets and hallways.

Along with addressing those problems, the proposed renovations include multipurpose room additions, and space for music and art programs.

Many residents leaving the polls yesterday said they considered the bond to be the most important issue that faced voters this year.

When asked what she thought was the biggest issue on the ballot, resident Cheryl Ruffen didn't hesitate.

"Definitely the schools," Ruffen, 48, said. "We need to renovate all the schools in Salem."

Heidi DeLucia, 43, said students deserved the renovations as she left the Town Hall polling place.

"I think it's time that Salem gets what they deserve and gets what other school districts offer their students," DeLucia said

Those who publicly opposed the bond leading up to yesterday's vote said the price tag was simply too high, and the renovations were too extravagant. Resident Ken Hughes, 65, said he voted no because of the money.

"They want all that money, and I'm saying no," Hughes said.

School Board member Robert Bryant said the district's PTA groups worked hard to get the bond approved.

"I believe the PTAs put in a superlative effort," Bryant said. "It's a proud moment in Salem. We're moving forward."

School Board member Peter Morgan, who was re-elected last night, credited the work of Salem parent Sherry Kilgus-Kramer.

"The best thing that happened was when Sherry Kilgus-Kramer asked if she could coordinate this, and we said that would be great," he said. "She really pulled people together."

Along with the school renovations, voters also approved five union contracts, which included raises or benefit increases for teachers, nurses, custodians, food service workers and other personnel. Last year, four out of five contracts were rejected by voters.

Delahanty said he believed the $22 million bond was the highest priced warrant article ever passed by the school district. Along with the bond and the contracts, voters also approved buying a plot of land next to the middle school and selling land the district owns on Lowell Road. Every article of any fiscal impact was approved.

Delahanty said he believes yesterday's vote marked a change in Salem.

"There's been a shift in attitude from a woeful outlook to an optimistic, and positive outlook," Delahanty said. "This is going to have a dramatic impact on the regard people have for the community."

School Board members Peter Morgan and Patricia Corbett were re-elected to three-year terms on the school board yesterday.

Corbett, the current chairwoman of the school board, received 2,789 votes, while Morgan garnered 2,331. Challenger Dane Hoover received 1,262 votes.

Morgan said he was pleased to have won, but the passage of the bond for building renovations was more important to him.

"That alone would have made it a good day for me," Morgan said.

Staff Writer Jillian Jorgensen contributed to this report.

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