BETHEL – A new $5 million gym and theater at Telstar high and middle schools would be good investments for the community, but they’re not affordable now, some SAD 44 residents said at a public hearing Wednesday night.

More than 70 residents of the five district towns met at Telstar Regional High School to comment on the proposal to build a
10,200-square-foot gym and a 7,800-square-foot performing arts center. Superintendent David Murphy said the
decision to gauge public interest arose when the district learned it could borrow $5 million at virtually no interest under a federal stimulus plan. He said the state has
already approved the loan if residents decide to go forward.

Opinions for and against the
preliminary design plan were roughly balanced.

Dennis Doyon, a Bethel selectman, said
the local economy cannot afford higher school costs.

“We sent out 518 tax liens this year,
double that of the previous year,” he said. “State aid to
education will also be reduced. This would be great to have, but we
can’t afford it.”

Robin Zinchuk, director of the local
chamber, agreed that the economic times were tough, but she also said
she has seen times when money has been raised for a variety of

“This would be an investment in the
future,” she said.

Others questioned whether the district
should spend money for something new when some of the schools require
repair and weatherization.

Murphy said the idea of building a
second gym in the high and middle schools complex on Route 26 has been discussed
for many years. Both schools’ students share the same gym, causing some
students to finish practices at late hours, or having to be bused to
other schools for practice.

Esther Pew, a 2008 Telstar graduate,
said she often returned home at 10 or 10:30 p.m., then had to do

“There’s not enough time to sleep and
function in school. A second gym is necessary. I’ve known students
who have quit sports because of this,” she said.

Taxes are rough for many, however, a Greenwood man said. “I’m for the project in concept, but
we had to cut road projects and we lost state revenue sharing. We
can’t afford it,” he said.

Jonathan Goldberg of Bethel said he
wasn’t sure where he stood on the proposal.

“We need to consider the students as
well as the taxpayers,” he said.

Both the new gym and theater would also
be open for use by the community, Murphy said.

If the project should go forward,
Murphy said the district would likely borrow the funds over 15 years. Costs to the towns annually were estimated at: Andover,
$21,833; Bethel, $116,667; Greenwood, $39,394; Newry, $108,890; and
Woodstock, $46,567.

The SAD 44 board will discuss the
public’s comments at its next meeting Aug. 10.

The SAD 44 board will decide whether to
put the question to public referendum. Prior to the vote, Murphy said
details would be worked out for the projects, and residents would
have at least one chance to attend public informational sessions or
public hearings.

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SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy, left, talks with several of the 70 or so SAD 44 residents who attended an informational meeting for a proposed gym and theater for the Telstar High and Middle School complex after the 90-minute session on Wednesday night. Seated is Bethel Selectman Dennis Doyon who opposed the idead because of the town’s high tax rate.

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