Fees for Use of Searles Building Raised

by Barbara O’Brien

Searles building.

The cost of renting space at the Searles Building in Windham has gone up. By a vote of 5 to 0, effective Monday, December 17, selectmen increased fees for the first time since 2000.

Searles Chapel and School is located at 35 Range Road. It is owned by the town.

The cost of maintenance continues to climb, Town Administrator David Sullivan said, during the December 17 public hearing, yet the Searles Building continues to have the lowest price rentals for this type of facility in the area.

For the Chapel Room, the cost for residents now is $225 (for three-hour minimum), up from $200. The cost for non-residents to rent the Chapel Room is $450 (for three-hour minimum), up from $400.

To rent the School Room, the cost for residents is now $300 (for three-hour minimum), up from $200. The cost of renting the School Room for non-residents is now $525 (for three-hour minimum), up from $400.

Also, according to the amended policy, the Windham Board of Selectmen reserves the right to negotiate a prorated hourly fee for use of facility rooms that extend beyond six hours.

Sullivan said he feels that the new rates are on par and appropriate for the quality of facility being offered. Sullivan also said he doesnt feel that the increased fees will jeopardize rentals. This is a very popular facility, he said.

Selectmen clarified that the change in fees is for new bookings only, not for those made before December 17.

The town took ownership of the then newly constructed Searles School and Chapel, from resident Edward Francis Searles, nearly 100 years ago, in 1909. The building, built at a cost of approximately $40,000, as well as the land on which it rests, was offered as a trade for Windhams School House No. 1.

Constructed of granite in the Tudor style, the Searles Building was designed with a multitude of unique details, including: cathedral-style cypress ceilings and matching cypress paneling throughout, hand-carved arched doorways, and intricate stained glass windows. A large tower was erected centrally to connect the easterly chapel room and westerly school room. Within the tower were 12 carillons, each crafted of sandblasted bronze.

Over the years, the building has accommodated Sunday religious services, elementary school students, and for a number of years, the Windham Cooperative Kindergarten. As its use changed over the years, many of the buildings unique qualities were hidden. Suspended ceilings were hung and linoleum laid, camouflaging the original ceilings, floors and the cathedral-style tops of the stained glass windows.

Eventually, structural issues caused the building to be vacated and the task of restoration was begun by members of the Windham Historic Committee. Through donations and with the support of residents, committee members restored the building structurally, then tackled the chapel room. In 1996, chapel renovations were completed and the buildings era as a function facility began. In 2004, restoration of the main hall was finished.

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New Pelham High Land Above Flood Plain

by Diane Chubb

The announcement about the proposed site of the new high school in Pelham is less than one-month old, and already false information abounds.  Opponents are criticizing the site as being unsuitable for a high school, and claiming the area floods regularly.  However, there is plenty of evidence the land does not flood, that it is above the 500-year flood plain.  

After at least two years of negotiations with the 33 owners of the land, the Pelham School Board announced the location on a tract along Windham Road, near the transfer station.  

The town will vote in March whether to spend $3 million to buy the property.  The option for the land expires immediately following the election.  If the town does not  approve the purchase, it may be sold to a developer.  

Numerous tests have been run on the land, including for soil contamination, gravel type and water levels.  All the tests have returned as favorable, showing the land ideal for the high school.

On Monday, December 10, Frank Marinace of Marinace Architects, the company hired by the school board to design the new school, made a presentation to the Budget Committee, and answered questions.  

The site is suitable for a school, with the appropriate playing fields said Marinace.  Environmental assessments had been done and there was nothing objectionable.  

Marinace added that the soil would be able to be reused for leveling sections of the property.  There is no ledge at all, and no water table observed.  The land includes an 80-foot long esker — a curved mound of material deposited thousands of years ago by the river — which is structural-grade material.  

There is every indication that this site is one of the better ones weve seen in a long time for school construction, Marinace said.  

Budget Committee Chair John Lavallee asked if gold had been found on the site, too.  That would make this decision a lot easier! he quipped.  

Dennis Viger asked about flooding.  According to Marinace, the location for the school would sit above the 100-year flood plain by at least 10 feet.  Even the athletic fields would not flood, he said.  They are out of the flood plain altogether.  

William Spike Hayes, who was instrumental in negotiating the deal, is very familiar with the proposed site.  After the Mothers Day Flood, when everything in town seemed to flood, Hayes toured the site and marked the areas of the property at the water line.  Engineers studying the site noted these markings and said the entire property was above the 100-year flood plain.  In fact, much of the site is above the 500-year flood plain.

Marinace expects that development of the site, including site work, utilities, drainage, irrigation, etc., will cost about $5 million.  This is less than half of what Windham is paying for site development costs for its high school. 

Kathleen Sargent, business administrator for the Pelham School District, has calculated that if the land is bought with a five-year bond, it will cost taxpayers 5 cents on the thousand.  Further, as long as the land is used to build a school, the state will reimburse the town 30 percent, or approximately $1 million, of the purchase price.  

The Budget Committee voted its approval of the warrant article to buy land.  Voters will have to make the ultimate decision at the Town Meeting in March. 

The new high school is part of the four-school model the school board has proposed as the long-term solution to the overcrowding in Pelham School District.  

The plan calls for building a new high school in the Windham Road location.  The high school will house grades nine to 12.  In addition, the existing high school will be renovated to make an appropriate space for grades seven and eight.  Students in the fifth grade will be able to move up to Pelham Memorial School, which will hold grades five and six, thus relieving overcrowding across the board.   

A detailed plan of the proposed high school site: http://mysite.verizon.net/wthayes/HighSchoolSitePlan.pdf. 

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Three Colors for Windham High School

by Barbara O’Brien

There are so many decisions to be made when a new high school is in the works, but one of the heaviest debated of those pertaining to Windham High School has been the official school colors. After months of discussion and rescinding prior decisions, on Tuesday, December 18, school board members voted to go with navy blue and metallic gold as the primary colors and dark green as an accent..

School board members had thought the decision was made about three years ago when students voted to go with blue and gold. The discussion came to life again, however, this past summer when some parents and students asked to have the decision reconsidered and asked school board members to go with green and white or green and gold — color combinations they said were traditional for Windham schools. The debate continued throughout the summer and into early fall, when, finally, school board members decided to ask high school transition committee members for their suggestions on moving forward with a three-color combination of blue, gold and green. As a result, this past September, an ad hoc committee was formed, comprised of school administration, adult residents and several students from Salem High and Windham Middle schools.

On December 18, Windham Middle School Principal Kori Becht presented the results of the ad hoc committees investigation. Becht said the question before the committee was how best to bring green into the fold (with blue and gold). We tried to explore the issue from multiple angles, Becht said.

Becht said that three vendors were contacted regarding the availability and cost of implementing a tri-color choice. As a result, she said, committee members learned that the cost of using three colors, instead of two, would mean a significantly higher expense to the school district. Becht said the increased cost of using three colors would run between 30 and 50 percent, depending on the uniforms/equipment purchased.

Instead of paying $50 for a uniform shirt, Becht said, the cost would be around $80. With a total of approximately 25 teams playing during three seasons, and some 15 to 25 students per team, plus uniforms for band members, a significant amount of money would be involved in the three-color scheme. Becht said that 600 tri-color uniforms could mean an additional start-up cost of about $36,000 more than for the same number of two-color uniforms. Additionally, based on uniforms lasting from two to five years before needing to be replaced, this could add an additional $7,200 per year for the three-color selection.

Becht said the students on the ad hoc committee preferred the three-color selection of blue, gold and green, but, if it meant saving money for the school district, they would recommend going with only two colors; dark blue and metallic gold. Becht said that no one on the ad hoc committee chose the green and gold combination.

The high school integration committee decided to recommend the two-color combination of navy blue and metallic gold. School board members, however, did not agree with that decision.

School Board Member Bruce Anderson said he preferred to go with what the students wanted; that being blue and gold with green as an accent. Personally, I like the three colors, Anderson said. Its unique. Anderson suggested that the uniforms be put out to bid. Lets just nail the numbers down, he said.

Chairman Al Letizio said he just wanted to make the right decision long term. Questioning whether or not the extra expense was worthwhile, Letizio said, Its time to make the decision now. He also said he liked including green in the color scheme because of its tradition in Windham schools.

School Board Member Beth Valentine said the original objective in selecting school colors was to involve the students. She suggested that the uniform samples collected by the ad hoc committee be put on display at Windham Middle and Salem High schools for students to view

The first motion considered by school board members was to accept the integration committees recommendation of blue and metallic gold. The motion failed by a vote of 3 to 2, with Anderson, Letizio and Valentine voting in opposition; with Barbara Coish and Beverly Donovan voting in favor.

The second motion to go with navy blue and metallic gold as the primary colors and dark green as the accent color was approved by a vote of 4 to 1, with only Letizio voting against the motion. The motion also included a clause that says team uniforms will be selected at the discretion of the school administration.

Letizio said he voted against the final motion, because he does not favor the administration having a say in the selection of uniforms. He said he viewed this decision as micromanaging. Letizio also said he hated to see green treated as the stepchild by being an accent color only, and not one of the primary colors.

At the end of another lengthy debate on high school colors, and referring to the multiple months spent discussing the selection, Letizio said he felt that the time was well spent.

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New Adult Services Librarian Resigns Because of Budget Committee Cuts

by Diane Chubb

Planning a trip to the Pelham Public Library?  Better take note of the new hours!  Also, dont expect to see newly hired Adult Services Librarian Robin Murphy, who resigned immediately after Budget Committee cuts forced a 5-percent reduction in all salaries.

Starting January 1, the library had to reduce its hours of operation to meet budget cuts recommended by the Budget Committee.  The new hours:

  • Monday:  10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Tuesday:  10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday:  10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Thursday:  10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Friday:  10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Saturday:  10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

In October 2007, the Budget Committee recommended eliminating the full-time adult services librarian position and replacing it with a part-time position.  The committees proposed budget is 11 percent less than that submitted by the library trustees and returns the library to the 2004 funding level. 

The trustees met to review various options to meet the reduced budget, but each scenario required that the library reduce hours of operation. 

In trying to meet the recommended cuts, Board of Trustees Chair Fran Garboski says the trustees reluctantly accepted the proposed plan offered by the library staff.

The move prompted the newest member of the staff, Robin Murphy, to resign.  Murphy recently came on board as the new adult services librarian, replacing a long-standing library employee.  Library Director Sue Hoadley was understanding, but disappointed in the decision. 

After a long and arduous search, we welcomed Ms. Murphy with great anticipation of the skill, experience, and vitality she would bring to the librarys adult services, said Hoadley.  Unfortunately, the immediate deep cuts in both salary and hours that we have implemented to operate within the confines of our recommended 2008 budget, were not feasible for her and she tendered her resignation very shortly thereafter.

Since the library moved to its current location in 2004, the number of library patrons has increased, as has the number of daily visitors to the building.  Numerous childrens and adult programs have been introduced, and remain well-attended.  This includes weekly storytime, special craft events, writing workshops, art exhibits, and local author visits.  All of this has been done without increasing the number of full-time staff. 

I cant blame Robin for leaving, says Hoadley.  Our pay scales are among the lowest in the state for a library of our size, for a town of our population, to begin with.  This massive reduction in our budget is a giant step backward for the library, for our staff and for the town as a whole.

She adds, We remain hopeful that the Budget Committee truly did not intend for this to happen.  I dont know how to explain more clearly that the full-time position that they suggested we eliminate spends 40 hours — 100 percent of the time — providing public services.  Reducing the position to 20 hours means no one is sitting at that desk for 20 hours.  We cannot provide adequate services to the public and insure the safety of our employees and patrons without fully staffing the library.

In 2006, the library dealt with disruptive patrons and experienced several incidents of vandalism because the second floor was not staffed full-time.  Since the arrival of Childrens Librarian Debbie Laffond in September 2006, there have been significantly fewer problems. 

The trustees and Friends of the Library will attend the Budget Committees reconsideration hearing on Thursday, January 10, to ask it to restore the librarys salary budget.  If that fails, then the trustees and Friends plan to make a motion at Deliberative Session in February.  The trustees have asked residents to attend both sessions to support the library. 

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Windham Anti-Noise Proposal Gets Scrutiny

by Barbara O’Brien

At the suggestion of selectmen, a group of residents spent time developing the first draft of a proposed noise ordinance for Windham. Selectmen listened to a presentation during their board meeting on Monday, December 17.

“We’re looking for a reasonable ordinance,” noise committee member Daphne Kenyon said. “We’re not looking to overdo it.”  The committee’s goal, Kenyon said, is to provide regulations that will “allow people to sleep at 7 a.m.”

Kenyon said committee members were assisted by Windham Police Chief Gerald Lewis. Lewis said he supports the development of a noise ordinance 100 percent and feels the draft is a great foundation on which to build an ordinance. Town officials still would need to look at variances for emergencies, however, Lewis said.

Lewis said the police department routinely gets noise complaints. The department received more than 90 such reports during 2007, he said.  These complaints now are handled under a state law that regulates unreasonable noise, Lewis said. Unreasonable noise is described as that which would disturb a person of reasonable sensibilities, based on the time of day or night during which the noise is generated.

According to the draft proposal, the purpose of the noise ordinance “is to regulate certain levels of noise which adversely affect and are detrimental to public health, welfare, safety and comfort, jeopardize the value of property, erode environmental integrity, disturb the quality of life, and are contrary to the public interest of the citizens of Windham.”

Selectmen said an existing clause in Windham’s Zoning Ordinance pertains to noise levels but lacks penalties or teeth to enforce it.

Selectman Roger Hohenberger said he favors a noise ordinance, but is not the decibel levels proposed in the draft. “They are way too low,” Hohenberger said. According to the proposal, no noise above 60 decibels shall be emitted from any commercial zone, while no more than 70 decibels may be emitted from any industrial zone. Furthermore, noise generated from the commercial zone and heard in a residential area can be no louder than 55 decibels during the daytime and 45 decibels at night. Noise generated from an industrial zone and heard in a residential area can be no higher than 60 decibels during the day and 50 decibels at night. A level of 60 decibels was described as being the noise of a conversation heard from five to ten feet away.

Selectman Margaret Crisler said she is very much in favor of a noise ordinance and would like to see selectmen working with citizen committee members to develop an ordinance that can be brought to voters at Town Meeting. Crisler, who volunteered to work with the committee, also said she would like to see a section regulating the noise generated by gravel-crushing operations. A rock-crushing operation located off Ledge Road has generated numerous noise complaints during recent months.

Selectman Bruce Breton said he favors developing a noise ordinance, but has questions about the best method of enforcing such regulations.

Selectman Dennis Senibaldi said the concept of a noise ordinance is good, but he has numerous questions regarding the proposal being put forth by the committee. Senibaldi questioned whether there is a better method to accomplish the same goals. Senibaldi also questioned the low level of noise limits in the draft, saying a leaf blower generates a noise level of about 63 decibels.

Chairman Alan Carpenter said he would rather see a proposed noise ordinance come formally from the board of selectmen, with participation of town counsel. Carpenter said town officials have to be careful of “the law of unintended consequences.” An ordinance needs to be something that can be enforced, Carpenter said. Carpenter also said an ordinance needs to include specifics as to the duration of noise. For example, the effect on residents of noise generated by a chain saw for 15 minutes, in comparison to the sound of rock crushing that goes on for hours.

Town Attorney Bernie Campbell said the proposed draft needs to be more specific in setting noise levels for various zones in Windham, including residential and rural areas. Campbell also noted that if the proposal comes in as a citizens’ petition, it can be amended at the deliberative session of Town Meeting, prior to going to voters on Election Day.

State Representative Charlie McMahon said he feels the current proposal is “so broad, it’s not even worth talking about.” Town officials need to be cautious of using “government as a weapon,” McMahon said. There are already tools in place to address this issue through the Planning Board and code enforcement, according to McMahon.

McMahon said he believes that proposed noise ordinances failed previously (1980 and 1995), because they involved “neighbors out to get neighbors.” McMahon said selectmen should appoint a study committee to develop an ordinance that will pass voter scrutiny, rather than present something that’s not sufficient.

At the conclusion of the discussion, it was decided there wasn’t sufficient time for town officials to take on the task of developing a noise ordinance at this point. Should such a proposal come forth as a citizens’ petition, selectmen then will decide if they want to recommend or not recommend such a regulation. A noise ordinance would have to garner the majority of votes at Town Meeting, before it could be enacted.

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