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Rowe OKs new school

ROWE — Special town meeting voters knew what they wanted and wasted few words on deliberation: they packed the Rowe Fire Station on a frigid night and voted 100-59 to fast-track replacing their elementary school destroyed by fire — even though they will get no state aid and have neighboring towns with classrooms to spare.

Most voters didn’t even want to consider other options for educating their fewer than 40 children.

So, Rowe will spend up to $250,000 to hire an architect/project manager to design a school and develop cost-estimates.

The only thing lengthy about the meeting was the nearly hour-long queue of voters waiting to cast their paper ballots.

Before voting began, School Building Committee Chairwoman Susie Zavotka gave a succinct argument on why to vote for the spending request, which is to come from school insurance proceeds from the Aug. 4 fire. She said a “yes” vote would not only produce a set of building plans and cost estimates but it would also “address the town’s interest to rebuild a new elementary school.”

Zavotka said the building committee has already advertised for an architect/project manager, contingent on town approval, and is holding an informational meeting today for interested architects. She noted that 63 percent of the town’s 172 school-building survey respondents want the town to build a facility to serve as a school and as a place for community events.

She pointed out that an annual town meeting vote for construction money would be the final approval needed before any construction begins. If the town votes “yes” on that, she said the aim of the School Committee and the building committee is to have a new school open by July 2014.

“Rowe offers educational programs not available in other schools,” Zavotka said.

Finance Committee member Myra Carlow spoke in favor of exploring other education options first. “It seems imprudent to spend a quarter-million dollars when we have had no substantive talks over options for educating our children,” she said.

After the 100-59 vote results were taken, voters tabled a similar article, which had been to approve the same sum for design plans and estimates for a community center.

A third article called for the town to spend $50,000 for an impartial educational consultant to research and give townspeople a list of educational options, the relative costs of each, the pros and cons, and to make a recommendation.

Carlow presented several reasons why the town should take this step, even after approving the architect’s funds. She said the Mohawk schools have at least 2,000 elementary spaces available in existing buildings and only 668 children enrolled. She said the town’s school-age population is decreasing and that a new school building is expected to exceed the town’s insurance settlement. To have at least 60 children in its school, Rowe accepts roughly 20 school-choice students, and Carlow said town taxpayers spend at least $364,320 to subsize education costs for the school-choice children, above the $5,000-per-student received from sending school districts.

Carlow said town tax rates have recently gone up 20 percent, from $5.16 to $6.30 per $1,000 valuation. She warned that new school building costs could result in higher tax rates in a town that historically has had one of the lowest tax rates in the state because of the wealth of utility infrastructure that makes up the bulk of the tax base.

Selectman Paul McLatchy III noted that Rowe Elementary children have had some of the highest MCAS scores in the state, within their age group. “Just because we join another district doesn’t mean we would save money — having to transport our children, losing control of our education. Is it worth it? In my opinion, yes. It’s worth it. I don’t need a feasibility study for that.”

Doug Wilson, who said he was undecided about building a school, thought spending the $50,000 “to find out what’s possible” was a good idea.

Loretta Dionne said she thought that building a school is mostly “an emotional issue,” and something that the town wants, regardless of its small student population.

“We don’t need to spend $50,000 when we’re going to disregard the findings anyway,” she said.

The article for a study was defeated by a show-of-hands vote.

Town Clerk Jennifer Morse said 175 residents attended the meeting, which was held in the fire station’s garage because that was the only building in town large enough for the crowd. The group included part-time residents who are not registered to vote here, but who came to watch.

The town has 283 voters, so voter turnout for the school building article alone was about 56 percent.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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