Charlemont voters defeat Hawlemont boiler replacement proposal

  • Hawlemont Regional School in Charlemont. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2022 4:04:42 PM
Modified: 8/10/2022 4:01:26 PM

CHARLEMONT — After airing their grievances with Hawlemont Regional School administrators and the School Committee, Special Town Meeting voters shot down the singular article on Tuesday’s warrant seeking up to $52,693 to replace the school boilers.

Residents cast 10 votes by paper ballot in favor of allocating the funding to replace the two oil-fired boilers, and 55 votes in opposition. Charlemont is expected to pay 79% of the total project cost through its regional agreement with Hawley.

Hawlemont School Committee Chair Ken Bertsch explained early in the meeting that plans had changed since the school board submitted the warrant article, meaning it was no longer requesting $52,693 from Charlemont. While the school had originally intended to replace both boilers, the plan was revised to replace one and repair the other. The expected cost to do so, he stated, was about $48,000, of which Charlemont was expected to pay $38,000.

The school has pellet boilers that it uses during most inclement weather. It only uses the oil-fired boilers when the temperature becomes extremely cold. Some winters, the school does not need to use the oil boilers at all.

Bertsch explained TMS, the district’s former business management service, was supposed to place this spending request on the warrants for Annual Town Meeting, but mistakenly did not do so in time. Due to this error, a Special Town Meeting was called.

The same mistake was made in Hawley, which held a Special Town Meeting with several other school-related warrant items. These items passed on June 20.

Many attendees expressed frustration about the fact they did not know about the broken boilers until two weeks before Special Town Meeting.

“Elected officials were never notified there was a problem with heaters,” commented Selectboard member Dan Girard. “Every single person in Hawley and Charlemont were duped.”

Some attendees spoke in support of Hawlemont, but against the spending proposal. Robert Lingle, a member of the Board of Health who was involved in putting in the oil-fired boilers after Hurricane Irene, said, “Those boilers were supposed to last a lifetime. … I am a big supporter of the Hawlemont school, but I do not support this.”

Others pointed to alternative fuel sources or subsidies and grants for alternative fuel. Many attendees spoke about grants that public buildings are not eligible for, but the sentiment to switch from gas heating to alternative energy sources was heard.

Annie Koch, a Charlemont resident who sent her seven children to Hawlemont before sending them to Colrain Central School, spoke about her frustrations with the school.

“How much more money are they going to ask for?” Koch wondered. “The school is filled with bullying and it’s disgusting.”

“I want us to remember the school and community just came through difficult years,” said resident John Hoffman. “We are changing for the better. We cannot overlook the fact we are in a different era.”

Hoffman referred to how all Hawlemont School Committee members stepped down after a vote of no confidence, and now there is a completely new school board for the district. He suggested that some attendees were venting frustration about former board members who are no longer involved.

Selectboard Chair Marguerite Willis talked about the poverty of the area being a major problem for the tax base of the town and the school. She implored the School Committee to use grant money instead of town money to solve the problem with the boilers.

Regarding finding a solution now that the boiler replacement funding request has been shot down by voters, Hawlemont Business Administrator William Lataille said, “We will go back to the School Committee and figure out what steps will come next.”

Contact Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.


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