EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 17, 2012

Windham board could decide future of middle school

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — The School Board could decide as soon as Tuesday night whether to pursue a new middle school.

“That is the goal, to have a direction set so we can move forward,” School Board Chairman Bruce Anderson said Friday.

The board really has two possible paths: build a new school for just under $30 million near Windham High or pursue a phased expansion of the existing school that would cost $10 million to start.

Voters will have the final say through Town Meeting. Still to be determined is whether voters will see a request this winter for design fees or a school project.

School Board members aren’t tipping their hands, at least not publicly.

“At this point, I, personally, am still weighing the data and reviewing the many emails that I have received from citizens on this issue,” board member Stephanie Wimmer said.

“We hope to have a further discussion and come to consensus to move forward with a decision shortly thereafter,” board member Michael Joanis said.

Constituents are voicing their opinions.

“The lion’s share of the feedback I am receiving shows strong support for both a new middle school and completion of the fields at the high school,” Wimmer said. “I am excited to receive emails and informal feedback, but recognize that we can never be certain that such input is statistically significant representation of the overall electorate and those who will choose to vote on election day in March.”

Last year, the board took what it thought was a good plan before voters in Town Meeting season requesting $700,000 for design fees for a new middle school.

But it got a rough reception at deliberative session when forces emerged, pressing for a middle school renovation instead. Voters defeated the request, 2,056-866.

A survey conducted by school officials later showed most respondents didn’t want taxes going up or didn’t believe the town needed a new school. But the survey also showed nearly 60 percent of respondents found class sizes “very concerning.”

Part of the discussion Tuesday will include creative ways to finance construction to prevent spikes in the tax rate, Anderson said.

“So taxpayers don’t see an increase in what they are paying for schools now,” he said.

The board will be considering what warrant articles to put before voters at Town Meeting, he said.

The meeting Tuesday is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Community Development offices, 3 North Lowell Road.

The board also holds a work session with selectmen tomorrow during the selectmen’s meeting at 7 p.m. in the Community Development offices.

Topics include the future of the former preschool building on Route 111 and a land swap that could create space for school athletic fields.