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Committee reveals space needs proposal for Alton Central

Landowner offers another option for officials to consider

September 15, 2009
ALTON — The school board's Buildings and Grounds Committee was taken by surprise last week when its announcement of plans to pursue an extensive renovation of the Alton Central School was met by an unexpected offer from a local property owner.

As the committee emerged from an extensive non-public discussion on Sept. 9, Chairwoman Marilyn Dame announced that it had decided to recommend that the school board re-build, renovate, and add onto the school as necessary to address the facility needs of students in Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade.

Depending on the district's ability to secure another waiver from the state Department of Education allowing the school to operate at its present 11-acre site (which does not meet current state requirements for minimum acreage), the board may also choose to once again pursue the purchase of the Twombly property at 19 Depot St. (a 10-acre parcel that district officials presented to voters earlier this year as a possible location for new athletic fields).

Asked by resident Steve Parker what the likelihood is of the district receiving another waiver, Superintendent Kathy Holt explained that the situation will depend on the personal philosophy of the state's new Commissioner of Education.

Under the DOE's current minimum standards, she said, an elementary school must have a minimum of 10 acres of land, plus one additional acre for every 100 students.

The district, Holt added, will need a waiver for the current Alton Central site in order to receive financial aid from the state toward either the proposed renovations or the purchase of the Twombly property.

Parker asked what the current enrollment figures are at Alton Central.

Dame replied that as of Sept. 9, there were 591 students enrolled, an increase of 17 students over the figure reported at the committee's August meeting.

Asked by Parker how the latest numbers compared to those from last year, Principal Bonnie Jean Kuras said enrollment for the 2008-09 school year ranged from 588 to 595 students.

Parker said he found it surprising that so many families were still moving to the area, given the high number of foreclosures in recent months.

"They must be renters," he commented, adding that he disagreed with the notion of school-age children from non-taxpaying families receiving a "free education" on the backs of local homeowners.

School board Chairwoman Terri Noyes pointed out that the planning board is currently conducting hearings on a proposed work force housing development on Route 140 that could potentially add more children to the school system.

"That development scares me," she said.

"It scares me, too," Parker replied.

Another option

Ben Kane, who recently purchased the former Bystrack property on Youngtown Road, sat in on a portion of the committee's non-public session, and explained later that he had offered to sell the district 20 acres of his land at a price of $200,000 (which he said may be negotiable).

Kane noted, however, that the 20-acre parcel in question is completely landlocked, meaning that the town would have to construct two access roads leading into and away from the site in order to comply with state safety requirements.

During the school board's Sept. 14 meeting, Kane announced that he had dropped his asking price to $50,000. (See the story of that meeting on page A5).

Committee members declined to comment on Kane's offer, citing the confidential nature of their non-public conversation.

Next meeting

The committee's next meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 24, at 6 p.m. in the middle school library.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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