By John Toole
---- — SALEM — Officials will put about $17 million in school renovations before voters in March.
The School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to bring forth two warrant articles for renovations at the Fisk, Soule and Haigh elementary schools.
Three-fifths voter approval would be needed to pass the warrant articles.
Meanwhile, parents said a citizen petition article effort is expected for a gym at Soule.
Superintendent Michael Delahanty will consult the school district’s lawyer and bring final wording of the warrant articles to the board next week.
“I think we need to have renovated facilities that offer our students and staff the learning and teaching conditions they deserve,” School Board Chairman Pamela Berry said yesterday.
The renovation proposals emerged from the second phase of a facilities master plan for improving schools.
They followed months of consideration that raised neighborhood concerns about possible closure of the Haigh School due to anticipated declining enrollment.
The warrant articles combined would put a little more than $1 million into Haigh for work, including needed systems improvements. That would preserve Haigh for education or any other purpose, such as a police station or public works facility, should the town choose.
“We’re addressing issues we, as a School Board, have a responsibility to address,” Berry said. “I think we’re being very prudent.”
Initial reaction from parents was positive.
“We support a decision that includes renovations to all three elementary schools to keep the town moving forward,” said Sherry Kilgus-Kramer, president of the Strengthen Our Schools advocacy group.
Rich Wilson, a parent who has two students at Haigh, is awaiting more details on the proposed work, but said he saw the decision as a potentially positive move.
“They chose not to make any rash decisions,” Wilson said.
He said he sees the board’s action as giving the school district and town time to make a good decision about the long-term future of Haigh.
“This is buying us some time — a three-year period — and that seems fair,” Wilson said.
He said he prefers Haigh remain a neighborhood school, but said he could accept another educational use, such as an all-day kindergarten, if declining enrollments require a change.
Wilson said he is opposed to converting Haigh to a public works facility or police station, uses he would rather see elsewhere in town.
“At the end of the day, this is all about a plan for Haigh,” Wilson said.
“Haigh is a municipal asset,” Kilgus-Kramer said. “Enrollments are uncertain. They’ve gone down before and bounced back up.”