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Editorial: Third vote on Mount Abe bond needs more inclusive process

In Bristol, citizen David Brynn has suggested a more appropriate time line and community engagement model to consider future renovation costs for the Mount Abraham Union High School facility than what the Mount Abe school board initially set out to pursue.
At a school board meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 15, Brynn spoke out against rushing a third bond vote for renovating the high school facility by the end of January 2018. Rather, he suggested the community take an extra couple of months to discuss a revised renovation project, and hold the vote on Town Meeting Day in March. Brynn reasoned that the community needed fuller engagement of the issue, and greater community turnout at the ballot box to move forward with the district’s full support. Choosing a day in mid-January with low public turnout is precisely the wrong approach, Brynn told the board.
“… Allow the people to participate in the process. It’s democracy,” he said to the board. “People have been out twice. We don’t want it to go down a third time. I think that would be bad for the whole institution. Wait for Town Meeting Day.”
Hearing those comments and others, the school board voted to postpone a decision, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 15, on how to engage the public in revising the facility’s renovation plans and when to hold the next bond vote. Recognizing the need to have the upcoming discussion be about reducing the bond to an acceptable cost, the board posted a line-item break-out of the $36.6 million project at anesu.org: Go to Mt. Abe renovation project 2017, and click on Link to Architect’s propsoal 2017. Or click here.
The school board would also be wise to revisit the process by which the 11-member Mount Abe Renovation Committee is selected and reconsider how to engage the public — considering that the past six-month effort, over multiple meetings, attracted fewer than a dozen residents.
It would seem apparent that following the same process with the same committee members might well yield the same dismal public engagement, and likely a similarly failed result at the ballot box.
On the other hand, Brynn and other community members are organizing a public meeting for Saturday, Nov. 25, from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. at Howden Hall for an initial meeting, and a district-wide charette to take place on Jan. 6 (or sometime close to that date, with details to come.) Such a charette could encourage far more public members to share their opinions about what parts of the renovation plans are the most crucial and which parts the public feels it can’t afford at this time.
By coming to the Nov. 25 meeting, and the Nov. 27 rennovation committee meeting and Dec. 19 school board meeting (or any one of them), voters could also send a strong message to the school board and administration that the priority should be spending adequate time to hone in on a bond amount that will be approved by a solid majority of district voters, and not worry about starting construction in 2019. The rush to save the added money in construction costs is secondary to getting a right-sized project approved.
 Most revealing is that fewer than a dozen citizens participated in the five-month public proecess that led up to the recent vote. Certainly the board and the renovation committee should seek different avenues to engage voters. Even making a decision in four weeks seems rushed.
Brynn and others seem to be on that track — the board should follow their lead.
Angelo Lynn
Editor’s note: After this editorial was posted, it was changed to correct the dates of the rennovation committee and school board meetings.

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