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Rowe votes to build new school

Expected to open August 2014

ROWE — After hearing from all sides, residents weighed in on paper ballots, voting 104 to 72 in favor of building a new, $6.9 million Rowe Elementary School that is to open in August 2014.

In this town of only 400 people, roughly half the population turned out for this meeting.

With only 36 Rowe children currently enrolled in the displaced elementary school, and 22 others enrolled through School Choice, several people argued that the small student population wouldn’t justify the expense.

The 50-year old elementary school building, which had been designed to hold 120 pupils, burned down during a lightning storm last August. The new school is to be built entirely through the town’s insurance proceeds.

Finance Committee member Myra Carlow, who opposed building the new school, urged residents to vote “no,” because the town hadn’t fully discussed alternatives to building a school for so few children.

“This is our last chance to stop the head-long rush to building a school ­— without any opportunity to discuss the best way to educate our children,” she said. “All the other children (to fill the Rowe school) will be pulled from neighboring towns.” To build a new school when so many neighboring schools are not filled “seems immoral,” Carlow said.

She said Rowe taxpayers will be subsidizing the education of the out-of-town School Choice students, and that, because the school’s septic system recently failed an inspection, there could be hidden costs that aren’t covered by the insurance proceeds.

School Building Committee Chairwoman Susan Zavotka and school Project Manager Daniel Pallotta said there is enough money in the current plan to fix the septic system.

“I understand why people would like to rebuild the school; it’s an emotional, gut-renching thing,” said Kris Swenson. “But times have changed, and Rowe School really needs School-Choice kids to be viable.” Swenson said the sending schools only pay $5,000 per student, but that Rowe subsidizes School-Choice students’ education by about $35,000 each.

Paul McClatchy III sees the high-quality education the school provides as worth the cost, given that Rowe pays the fourth-lowest tax rate in the entire state.

“When it comes to education, is money the bottom line?” he asked. “I sincerely hope not. ... Rowe has been considered a private/public school, because we offer the excellence of a private school to almost anybody.”

McClatchy argued that joining another school district would diminish Rowe’s control over its school and over the quality of education.

If Rowe doesn’t have a school, said McClatchy, “We’re going to lose a lot of people and we’re going to lose a lot of future people.”

Selectman Noel Abbott said, although money is important, “This is really a question and a vote about what kind of community Rowe wants to be for the next 50 years — and nothing less. If we vote ‘no’ on this school, that begins the dissolution of the Rowe School as a separate department.”

Architect Chip Greenburg gave a presentation about the new building, which will be sited differently from the old building, to take advantage of solar heat gain, natural light and better traffic flow. The floor plan also provides space for community meetings and events, he said.

Project Manager Daniel Pallotta said the burned, former school building will be completely demolished by July 8, and the ground will be leveled and graded. He hopes that construction could begin in early to mid September, to get as much done as possible before winter sets in.

“The target is to get teachers in the building by Aug. 15, 2014,” Pallotta said. “That’s the plan we laid out with your school building committee.”

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

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