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School Board eyes building for SAU


October 07, 2009
If all goes according to plan, by the end of October the Gilford School Board would like to see an agreement for the SAU office, now in the basement of the town hall, to be moved to the vacant library on Belknap Mountain Road instead of the Gilford Elementary School, the other option that has been bandied about.

The old library, vacant as of 2008, was replaced by the new library on Potter Hill Road. The property was once donated by heirs Wilbur and Louise Harding for the purpose of a library. The deed stated that the property would return to the heirs if it did not go to the purpose it was intended for, which was the town library.

The vacant library was a prime SAU office pick, but the heirs argued it was their right to the land, until a judge ruled that deed was no longer in use after 21 years, and has given the land back to the town. The four heirs of the donors still have until Oct. 26 to appeal the court decision, and the school board must wait until legal matters soothe over by the end of the month before taking any action.

School Board member Kurt Webber insisted that the board make some directional decisions last Monday night and started off that portion of the meeting by suggesting that the board move the SAU office to the vacant library, although some members wanted to discuss the issue first.

"I would like to hear a recommendation from the administration," said board member Derek Tomlinson, who looked to the superintendent for his opinion.

Superintendent Paul DeMinico said it was hard for him to say because both options seemed equal to one another. He said if there were an educational factor, it would be his duty to pick the one that would ensure a more efficient education than the other.

"If there was an educational benefit to one of the places, I would go there. This has become more of a community issue," said DeMinico.

Tomlinson said he was also concerned with which building would be more cost-effective and the Superintendent answered that although GES would potentially be more cost-effective, that the taxpayers will be affected by the vacant library no matter what because it costs the town money to maintain the building already.

"The cost of heating utilities is clearly more in the library than it would be in the Elementary School (which already has electricity and heat)," said DeMinico.

It would be about $13,000 per year to pay for light and electricity in the vacant library, although DeMinico reminded the board that whether the SAU office takes the office or the town uses it for something else, the cost will be passed on to the taxpayers in order to take care of the facility.

Board member Sue Allen said she was hesitant on picking GES as the new SAU office location because of her background in real estate. She said that more and more elderly couples are moving out, and younger couples with children are moving into Gilford at an eye raising rate, meaning GES will eventually need more room.

"I think when the study was done by the NHSB the economy was not a factor. Anyone here can see what's happening to Gilford," said Allen. "Where we had an older population, we're now seeing the streets full of new, young families. There's been so many foreclosures…we'll see an increase of new families."

Assistant Superintendent Scott Isabelle said it's a win-win situation for him, since he finds benefits in both potential buildings. He noted that last Nov. the SAU office temporarily moved to GES. He said it was great to mix the professional staff with the kids, and to actually see the product of their work in the end.

Isabelle added that the library is also a plus, because it's right across the street from downtown Gilford, and makes the SAU office more visible, something not achieved in the basement of the town hall.

"Operationally, it's a toss up. I can't give a real negative reason for each. That's why it's so hard to answer," said Isabelle.

He added that the upstairs of the library would not have to be finished right away, and that they could "moth" it for a while.

Chair of the board Margo Weeks agreed that the SAU office could go either place, and has found pros and cons in each building. She agreed with Allen's statement that the GES population may soon increase, but as of right now is unpredictable. Weeks said she would prefer not to use GES property, especially since they had another option.

After listening to the board discuss pros, cons, and cost effectiveness, Tomlinson said he would personally prefer the library.

"I am leaning towards the library, but I am worried about the cost. But if the town has to do that anyway," said Tomlinson, he didn't see why not go ahead with the library.

Although the board is still waiting to see of the heirs make a move or not on an appeal by Oct. 26, they said they wanted to choose the best SAU office option ahead of time in order to create some direction and to help with the town plan. Allen said the board should attempt to keep their options open, even though most members voted in favor of the vacant library.

Martin Lord Osman
Penny Pitou
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