Letter to the editor: Time for Bristol-area voters to support Mt. Abe bond

These days it’s easy to feel a sense of helplessness in the face of seemingly planetary forces. Things like global warming, natural catastrophes, international economic cycles, and national politics come to mind as forces that appear beyond our control. They careen headlong into the future with little regard for our plans. But of course there are things we can control here. How we support and encourage the education of our children in these Five Towns, and how we nurture the idea of education, for young and old and in between, in these Five towns, now these are things that are within our control.
Some look at the arc of our demographic over the last 20 years, and see empty classrooms ahead, a dis-economy of scale that will force us to mothball our schools and possibly merge with another district in order to shed excess capacity. Others look at the proposal before us on Town Meeting Day and see needless extravagance that we can’t afford. That we should have a shorter term bond or tweak the proposal this way or that. Perhaps we should even build an entirely new building, state of the art, right next to Mt Abe and rent out parts of the current building to businesses. But do we really need another building on that beautiful site, when the current building can accommodate a thousand students? And is our future so dismal that we can’t convince ourselves to believe in it?
Voting in favor of the Bond will not only make for a healthier, safer and more effective place for student learning, it will increase the utility of Mt Abe as a center for teaching and learning for all of the citizens of our district. Though the building definitely has shortcomings, many of them can be addressed in a thorough renovation. The recently renovated Lincoln Elementary School uses half the energy per square foot that the rest of the district uses on average. The Mt Abe renovation, with continued and focused community and student involvement, should be able to bring Mt Abe to that same level.
We are also at the beginning of a transformation in the way we utilize our public schools. The recent excellent article by Charlie Mitchell in these pages quoted Maine researcher Catherine Biddle on the crucial importance of developing the Community/School connection. Mt Abe can become the place where students, teachers, mentors, community representatives and local business owners come together to improve student learning to the benefit of the community.
This ongoing work, in addition to increasing opportunities for adult learning at Mt Abe, will help us to better utilize the facility going forward. However student population trends pan out, we will need every square foot of Mt Abe to truly meet the educational needs of our five towns. Whatever threats, pitfalls or opportunities the future may hold, it is certain that continued, sustained investment in our educational infrastructure will pay off over the long term. It is time for Five Town residents to step up to the plate, come together and build the future we want.
Louis duPont

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