....remove your fingers from the keyboard and turn off your computer!
This is what I have had to do for over a year now because of the town I live in. We are a small town. We began our existence as a mill town. We have no income or sales tax because we decided to live here in New Hampshire. Because of no taxes coming in from these sources- all funds needed to run our town have to come from property taxes. Think about that. All the money that you can spend on a small New England town, has to come from people who own property. Needless to say, our little town doesn't have much in the way of luxuries and has had to cut back some services due to the economy.
Part of these cuts have resulted in losing qualified people who worked with our children in both of our schools, technology not being updated, teachers not receiving raises, books and supplies not being current, as well as repairs and maintenance not being able to be done on the buildings. There are other issues that are going on in our town as well including a new water treatment plant and possible demolition or replacing of a key dam on the river so the money our town does have, can only be stretched so far.
My problem with this is that for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS- nothing has been done. Even before the economy took a nosedive. Before the state stopped funding building of new schools. Before the EPA mandated we stop dumping high levels of chemicals into the river and threatened to take us to court. Before all of that, no one wanted to spend money. The feeling around town was "it was good enough for my kids (or even me) so why do we need to do anything?". When my husband and I moved into this town, almost fourteen years ago, both the water treatment plant as well as the high school were issues. We knew this moving here and figured it would work itself out in a couple of years. Boy were we ever wrong! What we didn't count on was the majority of people being uninformed when they vote and that they vote with their wallets. We lived in a few other states where building a new school was not an issue. It was on the ballot, you voted and the building was built. We were shocked each time the issue came up for a vote and failed miserably. Why are people in this town not supporting education of our children? It boggled our minds. And still does.
Water treatment plant. Yup we need it. People who use town water and sewer will pay for it. Fine. I vote yes. What is the problem?? (believe me it is NOT that simple). But that is not what I want to discuss in this post. This post is for my frustration on the school building issue. My inability to keep my cool when people in the town do not have all the facts but go forth and spew them from the top of Mount Washington like they were the Holy Scriptures, has had me backing away from my keyboard as well as not participating in discussions, meetings and online forums for over a year. I do not do well when I want to have conversations and adult discussions with others and members of that party resorts to name calling, mud slinging, lies and bogus facts. This is not middle school, this is real life. We can be adults and discuss our differences without all the drama. Well, you would think that and you would be wrong wrong wrong.
For years our Junior/ Senior High School has been falling apart. I guess I should start on when it was built- 1925. It was too small when it opened because the town didn't want to spend more money on building it larger as they didn't believe a larger building was needed. They were wrong. It was also built so that a third story could not be added- that saved the town money and made people happy.
There was an addition built in 1953. Again that addition did not give the building enough room to house the students. They added on again in 1965. There was one more addition to the school in 1985, that was for the gymnasium/ locker rooms. Again all these additions are not able to hold a third floor. Future planning is not a big thing around here. The aerial view of the school looks like a Tetris piece gone wrong. Now it is too small to meet the Department of Education State Guidelines on classroom sizes and other spaces. We can't put any more additions onto the school as the land available and the footprint of the school will not support it.
There have been many suggestions over the years as to how to fix this problem in our town. There was one to buy up the land surrounding the school from homeowners so we could expand. That was met with a large NO from the community. It could have also had something to do with the talk of eminent domain that was bantered about town. Bet you can guess who started in with that term.
There was a suggestion to put the school on the golf course we have in town- again NO was the response from the voters. Most voters felt that the school should remain in the 'center' of town and not on the outskirts. And some didn't even realize exactly how bad the Junior/ Senior High School building was at that time. Information was hard to come by back then and not as readily available as it is now.
Another suggestion was to buy the land across the street from the Junior/ Senior High School and build there.(the land across the street belonged to a greenhouse/ florist family and they were looking to sell the land) That would solve the 'center' of town issue. It took A LOT of work but the land was purchased and now belongs to the school. You would think that should be the end of this whole debate on building a much needed school for our beloved town. But you would be seriously mistaken on all counts!
The first two suggestions would have given us some state aid to help offset the cost to our town. Since those times, the New Hampshire government has put all school building funding on hold. And once they decide to start funding again, they are already millions of dollars behind in what they already owe to towns who had been promised funds before the funding was stopped. We are on our own folks. Which means, the burden is on the town's taxpayers exclusively.
Yes we have made the current building work for many years and things were going swimmingly. Well if you consider that some classes were being taught in hallways and storage was wherever there was space. All of this came to light during a fire inspection. Come to find out the building where we send our students, OUR CHILDREN, was considered failing in many fire and life safety concerns. Because of all the different additions, stairwells were now located in the middle of hallways instead of being enclosed to keep a fire from traveling quickly from one level to another. Many areas in the building do not meet ADA requirements, there are wood floors as well as wainscoting that need to be removed or covered with flame retardant materials, and there was not proper ventilation in the science labs or two proper egresses. These were the larger of many concerns the fire chief had for our building. The entire laundry list of failings was presented to the town along with an ultimatum- if these things were not fixed (or a new school being built) by the 2015-2016 school year, the building was going to be closed. That's it folks. Party is over- no school in town.
Repair work has been done on some of the issues on the school as the debate continues on as to what to do for the long term. Because we have been doing some of the improvements, we have been able to keep the building open. However, this last bit of work that needs to be done will ONLY solve our fire and life safety issues in the building. It will not fix the problems of overcrowding, hallways too narrow, classes being held in the cafeteria or in the 'auditorium'. All it will do is buy us a bit of time before we have to build a new school. And that is what many people in town would like to do.
Wait for someone else to pay for it.
Wait for the economy to turn around.
Wait for the cost to come down.
Wait until those of us who want a new school, leave town.
But YOU WAIT!!
I am willing to pay for a new school. I believe that education is key to the future. Just because you or your children didn't have it, doesn't mean you should discount it and call it reckless spending or a Taj Mahal.
Will the economy ever go back to where we were ten years ago? Nope. Deal with the present people. The DeLorean is not taking us back in time.
The cost will never go down. The suggestions that were discussed in the past were priced at $20 million, and $35 million. Each of those suggestions included state aid. Our current option is priced at $45 million and no state aid. I don't see those prices going down over the past seven or eight years and they certainly will not go down the longer we drag this out.
Why do I have to leave? I chose this town from all the other towns in New Hampshire. I chose to call this town my home. I chose to raise my children in this town. I chose to experience the small town flavor of living in this town. Why are you declaring I have to leave in order for my children to get the education I want for them? Why do you get to decide when I move?
I am beyond frustrated on this whole issue. There seems to be a divide in this town. Us versus Them. Not sure what happened and how we can get back to one group of people who want the best for our wonderful town. I do know that name calling, half truths, insults, circle talking and being mean are not going to bring us together.
Let's talk facts.
Let's remove the emotion.
Let's be a community again.
I strongly believe our only option is to build a new school.
I strongly believe the current proposal that is on the table is one that is fair and reasonable.
I strongly believe we can do this and move forward into the future with pride in our town.