EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 11, 2013

Board pushes ahead with Windham school plans

By John Toole

---- — WINDHAM — The School Board is ready to renew efforts to expand school building capacity and upgrade athletic fields.

The board is inviting the public to participate in a community discussion of the future of school facilities at a meeting later this month at Town Hall.

Chairman Mike Joanis last week told the School Board the session won’t be the last chance for people to speak about school facilities.

“We’re proposing to have several opportunities for public input,” Joanis said.

The board also plans to seek input from residents during forums in September and October, before deciding what options to pursue through the Town Meeting process, he said.

“I think it’s great to start getting more input from the public, but I think we need to make sure people know we are thinking of doing that,” board member Michelle Farrell told Joanis, encouraging school officials to promote the forum.

School Board member Dennis Senibaldi wasn’t optimistic about attendance for the first session.

“If you got 15, I’d be shocked,” Senibaldi said, noting the forum is in the middle of summer.

Voters in consecutive years have rejected a $31 million middle school project and engineering fees to design one.

Discussion will be focused on familiar options for Town Meeting 2014.

“We just have a long list of potential capacity options,” Joanis said. “None of these are really new and exciting.”

Joanis said he wants more discussion this year of an addition at the middle school, along with site improvements that could improve traffic flow.

Board member Stephanie Wimmer acknowledged potential site improvements have been an obstacle to pursuing an addition before.

“That was one of the challenges we never solved,” Wimmer said.

Farrell wondered if school officials will have dollar estimates to present to the community at the upcoming forum.

“Are we going to have ballpark numbers?” she asked. “I would have a hard time deciding what to do and give input if I didn’t know how much things are going to cost.”

Joanis said the forum is intended for people to share their opinions and preferences. School officials will firm up numbers later, he said.

While Joanis conceded one option is to do nothing, he said it’s clear the board essentially is already making a decision that is unacceptable.

“We’re off and running with this,” he said.

The board, meanwhile, has directed member Jerome Rekart and business administrator Adam Steel to meet with the Community Improvement Committee on July 19 to discuss what funding the district will seek through the CIP plan for school roof improvements.

Joanis also said the board intends to take a new look at enrollment projections.

Enrollment projections came under fire earlier this year from opponents of the new middle school project who questioned their validity.

The community discussion on school facilities is scheduled for 7 p.m. July 23 at Town Hall.

Under the schedule outlined by Joanis, the board will settle on what facility improvements to bring before voters as soon as November.

A bond hearing would be Jan. 17, the school deliberative session on Feb. 7 and Town Meeting on March 11.