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Rowe board wants new school

ROWE — The School Committee put a “do not resuscitate” order on the burned Rowe Elementary School building Wednesday night, voting to have it demolished.

But it also took the first step toward building a new school by unanimously voting to keep the school grounds for a new school.

A cheer went up from a handful of teachers and parents after this second vote, which was made after selectmen asked if the school board wanted to keep the property for school purposes or give it over for development of other town uses.

Selectmen said the vote would determine whether the town forms a “school building committee” or a broader “building committee” that would consider other town building needs for the land.

“We’re a school committee,” said Chairwoman Lisa Miller, “so I guess that’s what we want to build.”

“We feel we need a school here,” she said.

Rowe Elementary School Principal William Knittle said a School Committee vote to keep the land for a school would send a “message of support to the teachers and let the town know you want to build a school.”

“I think it would be a very positive move,” he said.

Also, added Miller, it would help parents, who are trying to plan for their children’s education.

In a recent letter to selectmen, Town Counsel Joel Bard said that Rowe had taken 30 acres by eminent domain in 1960 “for the purpose of establishing, constructing and operating an elementary school.”

Since the land was dedicated to school purposes, Bard said, the School Committee has custody and control over the school grounds. For that to change, he said, the School Committee would have to determine the land is no longer needed for a school, and voters would have to agree, by a two-thirds majority vote at a town meeting. Then the land could be used for other purposes.

Selectman Paul McLatchy said the school board’s vote “gives a clear message of what you want to do. It clarifies what’s the next step to take.”

Miller said the old school was always available for other community uses, including as a town meeting hall and as an emergency center. She said voting to keep the land for a school doesn’t preclude other uses by the town.

Although this vote reflects the school board’s intention, Rowe is still a long way from rebuilding a school. Selectmen have told townspeople there will be a town meeting vote to see if the majority wants a new school building, before anything goes forward. Also there are many questions about how to pay for it. An estimate prepared for the town through its insurance adjuster, puts the cost at $7.3 million, using the existing foundation and configuration.

Wednesday night, Miller said a building committee would have to be formed, so that plans could be presented to voters.

Knittle said things have been going well with the Rowe Elementary School now housed in the Hawlemont Regional School building. He noted that the Rowe and Hawlemont children just went out on a school hike together Wednesday in the Hawley State Forest and have gotten together for other field trips and outings. He said attendance to a recent open house for the Rowe School at Hawlemont was between 90 to 95 percent.

“We have a roof over our heads and we have a group (Hawlemont) that’s been very welcoming,” said Knittle. “We’re good for now. But we’d like our own building.”

The vote was to “move forward with the process of rebuilding a school on the Rowe School property.”

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