Voters reject sale of building to Mountain School
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 04,2013
WINHALL — Voters have rejected a request by the Mountain School to buy its building from the Winhall school district for $700,000 and its grounds from the town.
But school officials said they planned to bring the idea back to voters in the future.
The Mountain School, an independent school that serves students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, has leased the building for 15 years. But this year school officials, having made some tentative expansion plans, took steps to buy the site.
Voters turned away the request by a vote of 122-78 at a special meeting Tuesday.
Charles Scranton, chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees, said that while he respects the decision of the voters, he is disappointed and “borderline shocked” at what he called a shortsighted decision.
“Granting the school the ability to control its own destiny would only ... make Winhall a more attractive community for people to live in, would only increase people’s property values,” Scranton said.
He added that voters should have considered the positive community impact of a school expansion, including a science wing.
“I just don’t think people looked at it that way, he said. “I think people were looking at dollars and cents and other political reasons.”
Scranton said he hoped voters would approve the sale at a later date.
Tuesday’s special election called for meetings of both the school district and the town. For the deal to be approved, voters had to authorize the sale of both the building and the land.
While the school district vote on the building rendered the vote on the land moot, the town meeting had been warned and that vote had to go forward. The town vote was also against the sale; it was done from the floor and no official results were available.
There was very little discussion before the vote Tuesday. One resident, Gil Schy, asked how the proposed $700,000 price of the school was set and whether it was too low.
School Board member Christie MacKenzie said a town appraisal in 2011 set the value at $688,000, and a school district appraisal in 2012 set the value at $725,000. The Mountain School offered $700,000, she said.
Scranton said he wasn’t surprised that voters had questioned the price but said it was based on two independent appraisals.
He also said he was disappointed that neither he nor Daren Houck, head of the Mountain School, were allowed to make a presentation and that there was no discussion of how the sale would benefit students or the school’s educational goals.
An informational meeting was held March 25 but Scranton said far fewer people attended than voted Tuesday.
Scranton said Mountain School officials are prepared to seek out private philanthropy to pay for expansion and improvements, but it‘s difficult to raise money for a property they don’t own.
The Mountain School is coming to the end of a 13-year lease with the school district. Scranton said he expected his board would look at a short-term lease while making plans to bring the request back to voters.