Just 15 votes swung ballot totals out of Milton High School’s favor on Tuesday, when voters shot down a $5.9 million measure to renovate the cafeteria and locker rooms.
Of 675 voters, 330 said yes, and 345 said no. The turnout was far less than at Town Meeting, when the originally proposed $9.77 million renovation bond failed, 626 to 897.
“I was hoping it would be good news, and of course, I’m disappointed with the low voter turnout and obviously disappointed with the results,” Superintendent John Barone said, reached Tuesday night.
Barone said he felt optimistic leading up to the vote, noting the people he talked to were supportive. He thinks the district listened to feedback given at a Town Meeting debriefing after the ballot failure, specifically by trimming $4 million from the price tag and by communicating more about building deficiencies.
The district hoped that focus would win public approval.
“The folks I spoke to all understood these were repairs and renovations we have to make,” Barone said.
Have, not want, because the high school spaces are non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX; the accrediting body could technically strip MHS of its credentials if the issues aren’t fixed, Barone said.
Both spaces also have mold and moisture, electrical issues and generally non-functioning equipment. The project planned to move both locker rooms to the first floor to allow access, and build a new fitness center upstairs. The cafeteria was slated for a new roof and layout to better accommodate handicapped students.
These points were enumerated in three forums before the vote, the latest one on Monday night, Dec. 2, that began with what School Board member Jim Lyons called a “false start”: Instead of beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the library, as was legally warned, the meeting opened at 6 p.m. in the high school auditorium, with one registered voter in attendance.
Town Clerk John Cushing entered at 6:20 p.m., informing school officials of the error, but by then, the public presentation was already over. The one resident, Margaret McAvoy, asked just a few questions during Barone’s presentation.
For form’s sake, Cushing officially opened the meeting at 6:33 p.m., then recessed for 15 minutes to see if any attendees, redirected with signage, would stop in. No one did.
In the meantime, McAvoy got a private tour of the MHS facilities, staying generally mum about her assessment of the spaces, saying only she wanted to be informed before her vote.
The district chose a December ballot to ensure construction could start and end this summer, but Barone now questions if waiting until March would have been better.
The superintendent wasn’t sure how the district will proceed, as statute limits the number of votes on the same item in a year. He thinks the operating budget will have to absorb some of the costs but wasn’t sure how to prioritize them, saying safety issues, like degraded wiring, should take precedence.
“It might have to happen piece by piece, but it’s something I’ll have to discuss with the board and the leadership team,” he said.
Those conversations will start this week. Barone meets with administrators on Thursday and the School Board on Monday. There’s already an agenda item to discuss the vote results at 6 p.m. on December 9 in the Milton Elementary Middle School training room.
“This is something we have to reflect on,” Barone said.