Friday March 4, 2011

ROCKINGHAM -- Voters could be facing another vote on the proposed $10.5 million renovation of the Bellows Falls Middle School.

Two days after Rockingham residents rejected the bond vote on the middle school on Town Meeting Day, Article 6 Committee Chairman Tim Doherty said the Rockingham School Board might decide to bring the question before the voters for another try.

"It felt like I was shot in the stomach," Doherty said about the close vote. "The members of the committee worked so hard and we lost by three votes. That says a lot."

Rockingham School Board member Joe Brissette on Thursday asked for a recount of the tight 471 to 474 vote.

According to state law, any voter could request a recount if the margin on the 945-vote count fell within 24 votes.

Town Clerk Doreen Aldrich said she put a call out to the town's justices of the peace and she hopes to hold the recount on Tuesday, March 8, at 10 a.m.

During Tuesday's Town Meeting Day vote, there were 17 blank ballots for the bond proposal.

Aldrich said the voters might have left the question blank, or they could have forgotten to turn the ballot over.

Or, she said, if a voter put down a check mark instead of filling in the oval on the ballot, then the machine might have recorded it as a blank and it will be up to the Board of Civil Authority to determine if it should count toward the bond question.


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"Three votes is very close," said Aldrich. "If the BCA finds ballots that they think should count, then it could change. It is possible."

The Rockingham School Board is scheduled to meet Monday and Doherty said the board members will consider whether they want to try to convince voters one more time that the renovation to the historic school building is in the best interests of the children of Rockingham.

"We have a great building that is right here in the middle of the village and we still think this is the best option," Doherty said. "I think the best thing to do is find out what the issues are people are concerned about, regroup and then go for another vote."

Vermont law says that a municipal corporation can seek another vote on a failed bond question only two times within the same calendar year or within any twelve month period.

If the project changes substantially, the question can be brought up again within the same year.

And if the bond finally passes, then 5 percent of the voters can ask for a reconsideration.

Doherty said he did not know what the board will decide next week, but the it could ask for another vote as early as May, when elections for Bellows Falls Village offices are held.

The Article 6 Committee worked on the middle school proposal for almost three years, including a full year spent debating whether it made sense to renovate the existing building or construct a new facility elsewhere.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reform-er.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.