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South Hadley voters approve borrowing $28 million for new elementary school

The 62 voters unanimously endorsed the measure, which will replace the town’s oldest school with a 63,000-square-foot building on the same site, at the corner of Routes 202 and 33.

Before the vote, in Town Hall auditorium, they heard presentations from School Building Committee co-chairman Thomas Eckhardt and school Superintendent Nicholas D. Young, among others, describing the new structure, and viewed slides detailing the building’s features and how it would fit onto the site. To allow for construction on the 5.5-acre school site, a 4.5-acre parcel will be annexed from abutting the Black Stevens Conservation Area.

Classes for 270 students in preschool through first grade would continue in the old school, built in 1932, while the new one is built.

South Hadley would receive a $15 million state grant if the new school is built, about 63 percent of the cost.

Thursday’s Town Meeting vote, while important, is not the final hurdle for the school project. In order to qualify for the state grant, the town must first commit to borrowing the entire $28 million. Once the new school is completed, the town would receive the grant money.

The Select Board has called a townwide election for Feb. 26 to ask voters to exempt the cost of borrowing the town’s share of construction costs, $13 million, from the limits of Proposition 2½.

Town Meeting voters were told Thursday that the cost of building the new structure would add $130 to $170 a year to the tax bill for an average home in South Hadley, valued at $234,000. Firm figures were unavailable due to the unpredictability of interest rates.

State Rep. John W. Scibak, D-South Hadley, a Town Meeting member, told the crowd that the Massachusetts School Building Authority now operates under a system that quickly reimburses eligible communities that build new schools.

Previously, state reimbursements could take six or seven years, he said, but communities now get the money when projects are finished.

“That’s why our (repayment) costs will remain stable over the next 20 years,” he said, referring to the payment schedule for the project.

Voters also approved borrowing $800,000 to finance a makeover of Buttery Brook Park. The town will receive a $400,000 state grant from the Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities program and a $375,000 grant from the state Department of Recreation and Conservation for the project. The remaining $25,000 would come from the Friends of Buttery Brook Park, according to the town’s recreation director, Andrew Rogers.

Work is expected to begin July 1 and end June 30, 2014.

In other action, voters approved spending $13,500 to hire the Collins Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston to conduct a search for a new town administrator.

South Hadley is without a town administrator after Paul Beecher resigned abruptly in January 2012 when board members declined to renew his contract, which still had a year to go.

Jennifer Wolowicz, the town’s personnel and procurement officer, is acting town administrator.

Select Board member Ira J. Brezinsky said the board will pay the Collins Center $6,000 to recruit candidates and recommend semifinalists for the position. He said the board is unsure if it will pay the center the additional $6,500 to cull the list into finalists because board members may want to do that work themselves.

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