Lyme school bond lacks budget committee support

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-04-2024 7:15 PM

LYME — Voters will be asked to approve a $2.6 million dollar construction bond at the annual Lyme school meeting on Thursday, which will be conducted by floor vote at 6 p.m. in the Lyme School Gymnasium. 

The fate of the bond, which must be supported by 60% of voters, will be decided by paper ballot at the meeting.

The project would remove lead paint on the side of the 1911 building and replace it with cement siding, and remove asbestos in the Laura Barnes wing of the school “in order to proceed with renovations of the classrooms, hallways and other rooms on that wing,” wrote School Board Chairwoman Yolanda Bujarski in an email to the Valley News. 

The warrant article, second on the list and dubbed “the Hazardous Materials Abatement Project,” failed to gain the support of the town’s budget committee, which voted 7-3 in opposition.

The project, something of an omnibus, also addresses other issues such as ventilation, HVAC and the renovation of bathrooms to bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If passed, the first debt repayment on the bond would be due in February 2025, according to the warrant. The K-8 school has about 200 students.

“The reason why we are pursuing this now is to proceed with bond borrowing and securing a team of subcontractors that can work efficiently during the summer of 2025,” Bujarski wrote in the email. “We know that construction resources are tight (both human and material), and the intricacies of such a project will require close collaboration that requires detailed planning and preparation in order to complete the project prior to the start of school in the fall.”

Lyme is one of several Upper Valley communities considering school bonds for renovation projects, including Hartford and Woodstock-area towns in the Mountain Views Supervisory Union.

In Lyme, the Budget Committee concluded that there was insufficient planning and preparation on the front end, said Chairman Richard Jones.

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The asbestos issue, for example, was not examined in enough detail, Jones said. “We felt they didn’t adequately study whether (the asbestos) is getting into the air or whether the tile is just worn,” he said, and that “there’s nothing that says this is the last time you’re going to come to the taxpayers for a big chunk of money to put into the school.”

The School Board hired Northwood, N.H.,-based RPF Environmental Testing and Consulting Services to evaluate the presence of asbestos and lead. The findings can be accessed online at: https://tinyurl.com/2wcy9rvh

But as presented to the Budget Committee, the overall project plan from the board didn’t include “substantiated analysis,” committee member Bill Malcolm said. 

“If you have a report by people that are certified in remediation, are certified in HVAC, are certified in facility assessment in terms of age of facility or building life cycle, had they included (it) in a report, that would have been useful,” Malcolm said. 

“I don’t think anyone on the budget committee denied that there were problems,” he added. “Anecdotally we have that information — that there are problems — but nothing that we received was something that we could discuss in any substance.”

The School Board budgeted $50,000 last year for a facilities assessment report, and “we don’t see $50,000 worth of analysis and planning,” Jones said. 

However, a School Board document describing the project details the hiring of Banwell Architects to create a facilities assessment, and that of four plans presented by the Lebanon-based firm, the board opted for the one that “provides the greatest value to our students and community at the lowest cost.”

The almost $2.6 million bond is “a lot of money to spend on a 70-year-old building,” Jones said. “The hazardous material abatement includes a lot of items that aren’t hazardous materials abatement.”

Of the article’s name, he added that “it’s basically a wish list of everything, and trying to get it passed under the heading of ‘hazardous material abatement.’ ”

The School Board did not respond to questions about criticisms from the Budget Committee by deadline Monday.

All seven members of the board support the bond.

If passed by voters, the article would override the “10 percent limitation” statute, which comes into play in New Hampshire when voters approve an article that the budget committee doesn’t recommend, and which would increase or decrease an overall budget by 10%.

But in the case of the “Hazardous Materials Abatement Project,” because it’s financed by bond, the project would be exempt from the limitation.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com.