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Bernardston OKs school security spending

Voters back 1-year moratorium on pot dispensaries, more money for Pioneer

Recorder file photo
The entrance to Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

Recorder file photo The entrance to Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

BERNARDSTON — Third time proved the charm for school spending on additional security.

A special town meeting, revisiting a request twice rejected, agreed to spend nearly $20,000 to improve front-entrance security at local schools.

Also during the meeting, the town voters agreed to pay their increased share of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District budget and put on hold any potential medical marijuana dispensary.

Monday’s special town meeting in the Bernardston Elementary School decided these and other matters.

Schools were the first focus of the meeting.

Articles to provide $4,500 for the town’s share of a front-door monitor and remote lock control system at the Pioneer Valley Regional School and $15,000 for similar upgrades at the elementary school passed by the two-thirds majority required, following amendments stipulating that the money come from town savings.

The effort had previously failed twice before, at a March special town meeting and the June annual.

Michael Sharry, a Bernardston member of the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee, said the articles were being reintroduced because residents had said there was not enough information provided at previous meetings.

Jim Carmichael of the Massachusetts State Police addressed the upgrades. Pioneer is one of only two schools in the area that does not lock its front doors during school hours, he said, and the proposal is for a remote lock with security monitors in the office for staff to buzz-in visitors.

Carmichael said the system is useful in custody and domestic-abuse situations, not only armed attacks.

“We’re looking to discourage the people who are easily discouraged, but for the others, we are looking to buy time,” Carmichael said.

Presented with creative scenarios for circumventing the system or attacking students in other ways, Carmichael said it is not a perfect solution, but a good first step and the single best return on investment for security.

Selectman Robert Raymond said the town could be asked to pay for bulletproof glass in the future. “To me it’s throwing money into a pit and you’re never going to fill the pit,” he said.

Resident and former Franklin County Technical School administrator Lloyd Szulborski said he couldn’t believe the question was being debated.

“Let’s face it, we’re not living in the same society we lived in in 1955, stuff happens. To vote this down would be ... stupid. You have to take care of your kids,” he said to loud applause. The article passed 60-18.

The next article asked for $15,000 for a similar system at the Bernardston Elementary School, which the principal said is kept locked, but without a buzzer and monitors, office staff leave their desks 40 to 45 times day to answer the door.

Included in the cost are handicapped-accessibility upgrades to the entrance required by the building inspector, who has ruled that work on the grandfathered doors triggers dormant Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The article passed 65-11.

Pot dispensaries

A one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in town passed 43-1. By that point in the evening, approximately half the residents had left in groups following the approval of articles of particular interest.

Eric Almeida of the Planning Board said the purpose of the moratorium was to buy the board time to come up with zoning regulations for the dispensaries, because the attorney general has ruled outright bans illegal.

Selectmen had previously sought a ban. If approved by the state attorney general, the moratorium will expire Sept. 30, 2014.

The first article of the day, $34,751 to supplement the $2.3 million regional school budget approved at the annual town meeting in June, passed by an overwhelming majority.

The town approved the initial figure based on an estimated assessment before the state issued figures based on a new formula to determine member towns’ shares of regional district budgets.

Superintendent Dayle Doiron said the final figure represented a 4 percent increase over last year in the town’s assessment, but the school budget increased only a little over 1 percent. Fellow district members Northfield, Leyden and Warwick slightly overestimated their shares.

Raymond said he believed if the town did not vote the money, the state would take the money from the annual state aid and give it directly to the district instead.

In other planning business, voters approved eight articles setting definitions for businesses, altering restaurant and drive-through zoning and correcting an error in the latest edition of the official zoning map.

Planning Board member Clayton Cardin said the town Sunoco station’s since-withdrawn plans to add a Dunkin’ Donuts, without a drive-through, brought to light that there is a lot of cleanup that needs to be done.

One redefines a “restaurant” as a permanent structure that principally prepares and sells food and beverages. Others separated the previously-combined designations of drive-through and takeout restaurants. Another allows drive-throughs in the town’s industrial zone, on special permit from the Planning Board.

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