Athens, Grafton plan meetings on school building ownership

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GRAFTON — In another Act 46 twist, both Athens and Grafton are planning to hold special town meetings next month that would transfer ownership of their school buildings to their town.

Harold Noyes, a member of the Athens School Board, said Wednesday he would be asking the Athens School Board to schedule a special town meeting next month. Jack Bryar, a member of the Grafton School Board, said Grafton had already tentatively scheduled a meeting for April 8.

In both cases, the goal isn't financial, but another step in the towns' continuing fight against the forced merger of their elementary schools with Westminster schools. Noyes said if the full Athens School Board goes along with the plan, the earliest the special meeting could be held would be mid April.

"I'm going to call for the voters to sell the school to the town for $1," said Noyes. "We want it to stay in the hands of Athens."

The former Athens School hasn't been used for an elementary school for about 15 years, Noyes said, ever since Athens and Grafton merged their two, very small elementary schools. School children are taught at the Grafton Elementary School.

Noyes said the Athens school building was used in the past to hold pre-school classes a couple of times a week, but he said it has been a couple of years since the school was in regular use. He said it is possible the Athens school might be converted into a town office or meeting place. "The school is sitting up there vacant," he said. "We could use it as a town hall or for some other use."

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Grafton also wants to make sure its school building stays firmly in the hands of the town, not a proposed unified union elementary school district, as ordered by the state Board of Education.

Grafton and Athens, along with Westminster, are party to a lawsuit against the state Board of Education and the state Agency of Education, attempting to stop the forced merger of their school districts into a union elementary school district. The three towns already belong, along with Rockingham, to a union high school district, the Bellows Falls Union High School.

"We're making certain the school must be used for education," said Bryar, who said the special town meeting has been tentatively scheduled for April 8.

"It's warned, but we're still trying to work out the language," he said, noting that Athens will be having a similar meeting.

Last November, the town of Windham held a similar vote, to transfer ownership of its school to the town. But Bryar said the purpose of Windham's vote was to lay the groundwork for a new, independent school. "We're very happy with our school," he said.

The Grafton special meeting will come two days before the special April 10 organizational meeting of the Athens, Grafton and Westminster school districts, a meeting that was called by the Agency of Education last week under Act 46.


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