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Editorial: How to do something 'remarkably cool' — the next steps for Mount Abe

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Posted on March 8, 2018 |
By Angelo Lynn



“We’re at the edge of an incredible opportunity to do something remarkably cool.”

That’s a quote from Bristol resident David Brynn in a story in today’s issue about the third defeat of a bond to renovate the Mount Abe middle and high school facility (see Page 1A.). What’s unique about his comment is that it looks at a defeated bond issue as an opportunity to do great things.

It is uplifting. As a community member of any local initiative with that message at its core, it inspires you to be involved and share in the excitement. You want to roll up our sleeves, form teams and get to work.

That’s 90 percent of the challenge to any successful endeavor.

ANeSU Board Chair Dawn Griswold’s comment to our reporter, on the other hand, reflected disappointment: “It is sad for the students and staff. The Mount Abe board saw this as the time to move forward with the proposed project, and we were hoping for a successful vote. It’s not the result we wanted, but the community has spoken.”

Her disappointment is understandable. The board and renovation committee spent a lot of time and effort since 2014 for naught. But the vote outcome isn’t about the board’s feelings. Rather, the opportunity is to harness the excitement of some of the 1,785 residents who voted against the bond to help devise a better solution, and to bring along the 1,196 voters the board knows wants a better school and is ready to spend upwards of $30 million to get it.

Lincoln resident Steve Harris, who had opposed the bond proposal, said he thinks the third bond defeat is a “turning point” in the district’s discussion and would lead to a better approach to the academic future of district students. “I don’t believe that any of the nearly 3,000 voters that expressed their opinion wishes to do nothing,” he said after the results were known. “There is a great deal to do and the sooner we get started with a truly open evaluation of affordable and creative alternatives, the sooner a winning solution will reveal itself.”

Neither Brynn nor Harris portrays the typical naysayer fighting a bond proposal because the tax consequences would be too high. Both are pressing for a consensus on a proposal that would help create a cost-effective school environment worthy of becoming a magnet school community. Note that we emphasize two important measures to success: being cost-effective and achieving a high quality academic institution.

If those twin notions remain the goal, a creative solution will be found.

So, what next? Here are some preliminary thoughts:

• First, because the bond suffered three defeats, the district can’t hold another bond vote until at least next November to allow district residents to step back, rethink the issue and perhaps come up with new approaches. And because the ANeSU district school board is to transition to the newly unified district board — overseeing the five elementary schools, middle and high schools — by July 1, 2018, the decision on any new bond will fall to that newly revised board. That provides an opportunity for current members to step aside and encourage new voices to get involved. This isn’t to criticize any current board member, but rather to accept the reality that as long as someone is filling a board seat others will not step forward, yet residents will rise to the occasion if a void exists.

• That said, the existing board needs to immediately set in motion a fact-finding committee, or two committees, that could outline two, or perhaps three, best-case options. The two previously discussed ideas are: a) renovating the existing building but at a much lower cost, say under $15-$20 million; b) taking a page from Steve Harris’ proposal to consider building a new, state-of-the-art smaller classroom facility adjacent to the current high school, while keeping large spaces in the existing building (such as the auditorium, gym, pool and library) for school use and leasing the unused portion of the building to create commercial incubator space.

The advantage of pursuing at least two comparative alternatives is that district voters can weigh pros and cons, apply critical thinking to researched ideas, and press the committee for more details. This work could be done this spring, and ready to present to the new board in July.

• As suggested, a facilitator could help lead the community discussion, though in our experience (which I add humbly as a layman and certainly not as a professional facilitator) we find that asking residents vague questions about what they want is not efficient. Most residents don’t know enough about buildings, construction or academic needs to be helpful. On the other hand, they can react intelligently to concrete proposals, and can quickly convey what they will or will not support.

That’s a start, and if it is undertaken with the attitude that there is an “incredible opportunity to do something remarkably cool,” good outcomes will surely follow.

Angelo Lynn

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