Top 10, No. 3: Voters reject Mt. Abe bond – again

Will the third time be the charm?
That’s what proponents of a new bond vote to renovate the Mount Abe Union High School facility are hoping. A third vote among Addison Northeast Supervisory Union district voters is likely to be scheduled for this coming Town Meeting Day in March. That proposal will follow two prior defeats and a year of planning, haggling and anguish over what to do with the nearly 50-year-old building.
The latest vote, a poll of five-town residents on a $36.6 million bond that took place on Thursday, Nov. 2, failed by 93 votes: 1,261 to 1,168. But the first bond vote, held in 2014 on a $32.6 million project, went down 3,328 to 1,239. In comparing the two votes, turnout at the first vote was almost twice as high and with almost all of those additional votes going against the proposal. But even in the second vote, the number of supporters dropped by 71.
The plan defeated this past November would have provided for, among other things:
•  A renovated main entrance with more windows that would allow in more natural light.
•  A second gym oriented toward the rear of the building, with its own event entrance/lobby.
•  A “loop” road so that traffic could circulate around the entire facility, including a rear bus drop-off and delivery docks for service vehicles.
•  Two additional outside terraces for lunchtime use, accessed through the large and small cafeterias.
•  A relocated library to the front of the building, across the lobby from the main office area.
•  Consolidated shop and design/tech areas that would take up much of what is now the library.
•  A reconfigured band room floor to make it ADA (Americans with Disability Act)-compliant, along with a larger area at the back of the auditorium that could be partitioned off for chorus classes.
•  An upgraded auditorium with new stage flooring, some new seating, new lighting and new sound equipment.
•  An expanded middle school art area.
The project proposal also included various code, safety and maintenance improvements, including making the stairways and bathrooms ADA-compliant; installing a new sprinkler system to serve the entire building; putting in new fire alarm and security systems; replacing and/or refurbishing the entire heating and ventilation system; and removing and replacing lighting, the electrical system and various plumbing fixtures.
While school board members had argued that the full renovation was needed and little could be trimmed, a new group of district citizens formed after the second bond defeat, spearheaded by Bristol resident David Brynn, and have held community meetings drawing as many as 50-plus people. Their goal, Brynn says, is to pass the third bond vote with 60 percent voter participation and 60 percent approval. To do that, Brynn and others say, the renovation price needs to come down.
At the latest school board meeting in December, the renovation committee floated a $29.5 million target, which will be discussed in early January, but even that might be too much according to Brynn and others.
Meanwhile, a smaller contingent of voters are advocating a plan to build a brand new 60,000-square-foot school building connected to the north end of the existing building at less than $20 million. That plan would keep the existing high school facility intact to share the large spaces: the gym, library, auditorium and swimming pool, while leasing the rest to a commercial developer as incubator space for commercial enterprises.
Whichever plan is chosen, the good news is that the public is more engaged at the end of 2017 than it has been the previous two years. ANESU district residents can anticipate a lively and provocative first half of the year as they sort through the various options.

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