Fourth Time's a Charm? N.H. Towns Try and Try Again to Pass Infrastructure Projects

Mar 3, 2016

For the fourth consecutive years, voters in Hampton Falls will be asked to approve a project to renovate Lincoln Akerman School. This year's proposal will cost $4.3 million.
Credit sau21.org

Many New Hampshire voters may feel a bit of déjà vu when they head to the polls for next week’s Town Meeting.

That’s because many of the projects up for votes Tuesday are reworked versions of multi-million dollar municipal projects vote that failed before.

In North Hampton, officials are asking voters to approve a new public safety complex for the town’s police and fire departments.

Barrington voters are again weighing a proposal to build a new town hall there.

And for the fourth consecutive year, voters in Hampton Falls are being asked to approve renovations to the town’s aging school.

Mark Lane is a school board member in Hampton Falls.

He supports the $4.3 million proposal to renovate the 67-year-old Lincoln Akerman School.

He joined NHPR's Morning Edition to talk about the proposal.

Can you explain what this project will do?

The project that we’re proposing at Lincoln Akerman School would provide much needed space for some critical programs at the school that are currently negatively impacted by space. The most critical problems are with the music program that is currently in an undersized classroom in an academic wing of the school. We’re trying to create new space in an isolated area of the building for music. We’re trying to create space and a classroom for our Spanish program, which currently works off a cart. And we’re trying to create space for 21st century education which really requires space to teach kids really to prepare them for the future. 

After the project failed again last year, how did you come up with a proposal with a price tag that may be more appealing to voters, but still meets the need?

We tried to compromise with the taxpayers of Hampton Falls, which I obviously am a taxpayer, as well. We all understand that taxes are important and that the program that we put together meets the needs of both the students and the taxpayers. So we created a reduced plan that focuses strictly on space that manages the taxpayers’ needs. It’s actually a 35 percent reduction in costs from the original plan we put together four years ago.

There were accusations of misinformation being spread leading up to last year’s vote. Are you concerned at all about the effect this kind of prolonged, contentious debate has had on the town?

We’ve worked hard a school board to try and resolve the issues between the two sides. There’s definitely a division in terms of those who support the program and those who don’t. We’ve worked really hard to make compromises so that it would be a plan that both the historic no voters and those who support the school would appreciate. Not only are we trying to improve the space for Lincoln Akerman School and the education of our children, but we’re also creating community center space that will be accessible to all citizens of Hampton Falls.

Lincoln Akerman School
Credit sau21.org

There’s been a moratorium on school building aid from the state for several years now. How big of a factor is the lack of state support?

I think it’s a huge factor. The problem in this state is that the state no longer supports renovation and building. As a result of that, it’s been much more difficult to pass these types of plans. On top of that, when you’re bonding something, it’s a 60 percent vote. For the last three years, Hampton Falls has supported the plan the board has put together in terms of majority. We just can’t get to that 60 percent.

As you know, there is a competing petition article on the ballot that would spend only $245,000 to renovate the gymnasium, not build a new one. Would that do enough to meet the needs at the school?

No. The $245,000 citizens’ petition to me is a waste of taxpayer money. The problem with that plan is it would fix the current cafeteria so that it is safer to do physical education, but it does nothing to the school in terms of adding space. We would still have a gymnasium that is too small. We would still have a gymnasium that doesn’t have storage. We would have a gymnasium that is interfered by lunch, assemblies, and snack time. It’s really not solving the problem at all, it’s just spending money poorly, in my estimation.