The vigorous debate in Mount Holly is not whether to replace our ancient leaky garage, nor whether to build the new garage on half of the land owned by our Elementary School, but whether the process by which these decisions were reached was in open dialogue with the town’s residents.
In 2008, the Select Board first approached the School Board about the use of 5.6 acres of school land to construct a garage. Five years later, in a public meeting at the end of November 2013, the Select Board shared its decisions. It presented the winning contractor’s bid and drawings to build a garage about 150 feet from the school building.
Within two months of the November 2013 public meeting, the Select Board received two offers of land from town residents: one, a gift of five acres, and the second, an offer of over four acres for $15,000 less than the purchase price of the school’s land.
Besides its price, the second offer has many features that are superior to the school site: It is flat, has no trees, and is on Route 103 close to the town’s center and the current garage, is linked to utilities, and offers room for expansion. Also, it preserves the school’s land including its nature trail and open air classroom and provides room for expansion of the school and town’s only athletic fields.
The Select Board, having maintained since 2008 that no suitable site other than the school’s land was available, has chosen not to compare the positives and negatives of each of the three available building sites before presenting the town with a vote on a $600,000 garage bond issue at town meeting.
The Select Board may be willing, now that it has made it decision, to share information with the town. The Select Board’s choice of the school site for the new garage may be the best decision. However, without the full public participation mandated by the town’s policies, required by the open meeting law, and expected by Vermont tradition, Mount Holly’s residents and taxpayers will never know.
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