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Town Meeting approves Bromfield upgrades, votes down middle school ramp

Last Saturday’s Town Meeting handed some wins and some losses to Harvard’s schools. With less than 10 minutes’ discussion in total, three measures to spend $220,000 on improvements for the Bromfield School all gained support from two-thirds or more of the voters present. But two measures for rebuilding the emergency exit ramp from Bromfield’s middle school wing both failed, despite last fall’s finding by Abacus Architects that the ramp is structurally unsound.

The measures that passed—for air conditioning in Bromfield’s southwest-facing classrooms, a locker room design study, and upgrades for the Cronin Auditorium—are all to be funded from the Capital Stabilization and Investment Fund (CSIF). In other words, they use money the town already has in hand, not money to be raised anew in property taxes.

The middle school ramp project, on the other hand, asked voters first to approve $230,000 from the CSIF and later to support borrowing $660,000 as excluded debt. The latter measure would have raised property taxes during the lifetime of the loan.

All the debate on the merits of the ramp project took place before the first of the two votes, which concerned the CSIF money. Looking at the $890,000 total cost, Jim Lee of East Bare Hill Road seemed to sum up opinion against the project, calling it “a huge overpayment for a steel and wood ramp.”

When the $660,000 excluded debt measure came up for a vote two-and-a-half sun-baked hours later, no one had enough energy for more discussion. About half the meeting’s original 290 attendees had already fled the heat, humidity, and hard chairs. Voters said no by a vote of 82 against, 76 in favor—even though both the Finance Committee and the Capital Planning and Investment Committee had recommended the borrowing. Voters also rejected the borrowing measure at Tuesday’s Town election.

Asked about the next step for dealing with the deteriorating ramp, School Superintendent Linda Dwight said in an email that she would ask Abacus Architects how to reduce the cost of rebuilding it. “But, with each passing year, construction does not get less expensive,” she wrote. She said the matter will probably come up again at Fall Town Meeting.

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