Wednesday March 30, 2011

ROCKINGHAM -- Rockingham residents are going to vote one more time on a proposed $10.5 million renovation of the Bellows Falls Middle School.

The Rockingham School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved the new bond question which will be considered at the polls when the Bellows Falls village holds its election, on Tuesday, May 17.

On Town Meeting Day, Rockingham residents rejected the same $10.5 million project by only four votes.

From almost as soon as the results were announced, school board members said they wanted to try to put the question to the voters again and at a special school board meeting Tuesday, the board agreed to hold the new vote on May 17, less than three months after the question was defeated.

Rockingham School Board member Jim McAuliffe said the board is moving ahead with the vote to try to win a special low-interest loan from the state that is left over from a federal stimulus payment.

The state was given money to lend to school districts that have adopted construction projects and McAuliffe said Rockingham still has a chance to get the money, though he said that opportunity is growing smaller every day.

McAuliffe said if Rockingham gets the low-interest loan, it would save the town about $3.5 million in interest payments.

"Vermont has the money but it is going fast," he said. "This project has been approved by the Department of Education. Now we have to get a positive vote from the people in Rockingham.


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McAuliffe also said the board was pressing forward because the building has serious issues that need to be addressed.

"The building is in disrepair," he said."It needs refurbishment and that is not going to change."

The Bellows Falls Middle School Renovation Committee has been meeting for more than three years to develop a plan to address deficiencies in the heating, electrical and ventilation systems at the school.

The project has grown into an almost complete renovation of the historic 85-year-old building.

Over the past three years, the committee has investigated other options, but at this point they are sticking with their plan to upgrade the existing school.

Rockingham board members said they will hold a series of meetings in the coming weeks to continue to try to sell the project to the voters.

The official information meeting, which is required by Vermont law, is scheduled for May 11, at 7 p.m., in the Bellows Falls Middle School auditorium.

The board also wants to hold an informational meeting and tour of the middle school, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, April 30, at 9 a.m.

The board promised to hold other meetings in the coming weeks.

"We want to do everything we can to communicate the value of this project to the voters," School Board Chairman Joe Brissette said.

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