By JOHN FLOWERS
BRIDPORT — Bridport voters on Town Meeting Day will be asked to approve a 20-year, $1.25 million bond issue to finance some major repairs to their elementary school, including installation of a new roof.
The repair plan is not only dependant on a “yes” vote from the public on March 4, but also action by the Legislature this session.
The legislative action is needed because as the state’s education funding laws are written, any time a town exceeds the statewide average for per-pupil spending by a specific percentage then the education tax rate on the town’s property is increased by a factor of two as a penalty. Since the state isn’t providing any aid for school building projects, the entire $1.25 million cost of the Bridport project would be counted in the per-pupil spending of the town, pushing it over the statewide average and resulting in the penalty being assessed in the town’s education property tax.
Bridport Central School was built in 1955, with additions in 1967 and 1987. Recent years have seen the building show increasing signs of wear and tear, with space deficiencies becoming more evident, according to Leonard Barrett, a UD-3 school board member and leader of the Bridport Building Committee.
Barrett explained that the school roof is leaking; the electrical system is unable to accommodate the increasing use of computers and other technology in the classrooms; the ventilation system is inadequate; and more storage space is needed for chairs and tables that are shifted in and out of the school gym/cafeteria.
In addition, school officials said some windows in the building need to be replaced and old carpeting needs to be ripped up and replaced with tile or some other flooring.
Unfortunately, an even larger and potentially expensive problem is lurking underneath portions of the carpet, according to Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Lee Sease.
“(The carpet) is glued to asbestos, so we need to do abatement,” Sease said.
The project would provide for, among other things, a new roof; construction of a storage room; upgrades to the school’s electrical, ventilation, mechanical and water systems; window improvements; removal of the carpet along with asbestos abatement; and reconfiguration of the front office area to allow for better school security.
“There are no luxury items here,” Barrett said, in describing the project.
Barrett believes his town will endorse the project, in spite of the state’s moratorium on construction aid.
“I have been talking to a lot of people and they understand the situation,” Barrett said.
Bridport Central’s deteriorating condition may be one of the reasons that 27 school-aged children in town are currently going elsewhere for their education, according to Barrett.
“When people come into town, the first place they look at is the school,” Barrett said.
There are now around 100 students enrolled at the school.
If approved, the project would add $89 to the property tax bill of a Bridport home valued at $100,000 during the first year of the bond issue. But the expense, under current state law, would force Bridport to exceed its per-pupil spending threshold under Act 68. Towns that exceed that threshold must pay a penalty, which in Bridport’s case would be an additional 8 cents on its education tax rate — or another $80 per home valued at $100,000.
School officials and local lawmakers are asking for a correction to state law that would ensure that Bridport’s construction bond is not factored into the town’s per-pupil spending. That would absolve the town from paying a penalty, saving the owner of a $100,000 home an estimated $1,267 over the 20-year life of the bond, according to ACSU budget analysts.
“The town should not be penalized for maintaining its own building,” Barrett said.
If voters approve the bond and the Legislature does its part, Barrett hopes work can begin on the school this summer.
Local school directors will discuss the project following the annual district meeting, slated for 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 3, at the school.