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Majority of Select Board withholds opinion on high school project

Date: 5/10/2010

May 10, 2010

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW -- During the public comment portion of the Select Board's May 3 meeting, Beth Baron, president of Lancer Pride, asked the board members what their stances were on the new high school project.

When it came time to voice those opinions, the meeting room was eerily silent.

Seven people spoke up during public comment at the meeting -- six of whom spoke on the school issue -- as a police officer observed the proceedings from a corner of the room. The Police Station Community Room, where the Select Board meets, was packed with residents waiting to hear what the board's decision would be.

The board approved the single article on the warrant for the May 25 Special Town Meeting, which outlines the project again. The option to build new and renovate the most recent portion of the high school at a cost of $78,452,888, with a reimbursement rate of 51.84 percent on the eligible portion of the project (about $65 million) from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) is what the town is bringing to its voters.

When it came to their own approval, however, three of the five board members said nothing.

Rob Aseltine made a motion that the Select Board approve the MSBA project as a group; no one seconded.

William Scibelli made a motion that put a vote on the subject on the board's agenda for its May 17 meeting; no one seconded.

Aseltine then moved that the Select Board vote to oppose the project, since no one seemed to be in favor of it; again, no one seconded the motion.

"This is a project that really requires the chief executive body to weigh in in a meaningful way," Aseltine said. "The facts have been known since March 31 [when the MSBA approved the project]. We've had ample time to look at the issues. Now we're at a point where the town needs to decide and it's time for the board to lead.

"I couldn't be more in favor of this project," Aseltine continued, "but we need to know where the Select Board stands."

Robert Barkett, Select Board chair and co-chair of the School Building Committee, said it was obvious where he stands on the issue.

"I believe this project should move forward," Barkett stated.

Select Board Clerk Mark Gold said he believed the board should weigh in at the Special Town Meeting. "We'll make our opinion known then," he said. "It's the proper place to do that."

Gold added that he thought each member of the board should make an individual decision, rather than have the board vote as one.

"I think May 25 is too late," Aseltine said. "That doesn't help residents know where their leaders stand on this."

As residents filed out of the room, comments ranged from calling the members who didn't speak up "cowards" to calling the meeting itself "an embarrassment."

Voters will have a chance to weigh in on the project at the Special Town Meeting on May 25 at 7 p.m. at Longmeadow High School and on June 8 at the polls.