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Town meeting approves feasibility study funding

Date: 11/3/2008

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW A large majority of the more than 700 voters who turned out for the Special Town Meeting last Tuesday evening voted in favor of allowing the School Building Committee to appropriate $750,000 for the feasibility study required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for the high school project.

The study, when completed, will determine whether the school can be renovated or should be rebuilt.

Resident Curt Freedman, who is in favor of an updated school, quoted Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" at the meeting, stating, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us" before adding, "This is the time to pursue this project. Millions [of dollars] will be saved [with state assistance through the MSBA]. It may be a bitter medicine, but it's what's best for the town."

"There is definitely room for improvement in the quality of facilities," Thomas George, president of the senior class at the high school, stated. "It's an unsafe and unhealthy environment. The community should recognize the seriousness of this issue and address it appropriately."

Resident Kevin Shea added, "This is not about renovation or new. It's an investment in the future of our town. If we vote no, we have to do this on our own."

"There is no other option," Saul Finestone stated. "This is for the kids."

Not all comments were in favor of providing the funding, however. Resident Peter Markell said he was concerned the current high school was allowed to deteriorate to the state it's in now. He wanted to know what insurance the town would have that the disrepair would not be allowed to continue at a renovated or new high school.

"I have a house that's one year older than the school, but it's not falling apart," resident Norm Spencer said. "It's not the brick and mortar that make our kids smart."

Ultimately, both the $750,000 appropriation for the feasibility study and the appropriation of $18,950 to pay borrowing costs for the study were approved by voters to thunderous applause.

Christine Swanson, chair of the School Committee and co-chair of the School Building Committee, said she did not expect the articles to pass with the majorities that they did. "Our residents recognized the high school needs to be addressed," she said.

"We're pleased and excited the initial step was supported," high school principal Larry Berte said. He added that it was "rewarding" to see so many people turn out to vote at the town meeting, including young families and people without children in the school system.

"The high school is an essential element to everyone in town," Berte stated.

"This is step one," Swanson said. The next step is getting voters to approve of the debt exclusion for the $750,000 with Question 4 on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The School Building Committee interviewed five candidates to become the Owner's Project Manager (OPM) late last week, and, if the debt exclusion is approved Nov. 4, the committee and the OPM will be meeting with the MSBA on Dec. 8.