The floor plan for a new proposed SAD 44 bus garage, to be located next to Telstar. An existing maintenance building on the site would be removed. SRL Architects

BETHEL — A proposal for a $2.4 million bus garage for School Administrative District 44 will go to voters in November.

The school board voted 8-6 on Monday to hold a districtwide referendum. The decision followed much discussion, including concerns expressed by businessmen Ron Savage and Dennis Doyon over the price of the project.

The proposal favored by the board would build a garage on district land next to the Telstar Regional High School complex on Route 26.

Savage said while he believed the current garage next to the waste water treatment plant in Bethel needs to be replaced, he favored a less-expensive option.

“Two million is a lot of money,” he said.

He cited the district voters’ recent approval of a new cost-sharing formula among the four towns for paying school taxes, which shifted some of Newry’s share onto the other three towns to entice Newry to remain in SAD 44. The formula took effect this year. The other towns are Bethel, Greenwood and Woodstock.

The board considered three options Monday. A larger garage at the Telstar site would have cost about $400,000 more than the smaller one that was eventually approved by directors. This garage would have two bays at measure 9,500 square feet. The current garage is 7,350 square feet.

Savage spoke in favor of the third option: Renovating the former Chadbourne Tree Farms garage on Route 26 in Bethel.

That option was estimated by architect Stephanie Lull of SRL Architects or Portland to also cost about $2.4 million.

Savage, a contractor, was skeptical of that projection.

“If we can’t pull that off for $1 million, I would be shocked,” he said.

He noted that while the property is listed with his realty company, Mahoosuc Realty, he would waive any Realtor commission if the district were to buy the property.

Doyon, a member of the Greenwood Budget Committee, said his town has scraped to save money. Adding a school project “would be a financial burden to the four towns,” he said. “There’s got to be a better way.”

The town managers of Bethel, Greenwood and Woodstock also attended the meeting but did not speak publicly.

Details

The bus garage in Bethel was built in the 1920s, and a recent report by a structural engineer revealed it has failing masonry and the roof needs shoring up. Any snowfall of more than a foot will have to be removed immediately, the report said.

Superintendent Dave Murphy said even if a new garage were approved in November, work would need to be done on the old one in the meantime to keep it safe for employees,

Lull presented more information on the three proposals at the meeting: The larger project at the Telstar site would have included 11,500 square feet and three bus bays. The Chadbourne renovation would provide two bays, 9,200 square feet of renovated space and 1,800 square feet of new construction.

If the option approved by directors were to be approved by voters in November, it would provide an ideal timetable for getting bids out in the winter and starting construction in the spring, according to Lull.

Murphy said the current garage would be put up for sale after a new one is built, at an estimated asking price of $125,000 to $150,000.

Director Danny Whitney of Bethel, who voted against the Telstar garage option, said he would prefer to look at other alternatives.

He said he did not think district taxpayers could afford the estimated costs.

“I think we can do better,” he said.

Woodstock Director Marcel Polak had a different view.

“I think time is of the essence” given the condition of the current garage, he said.

The need to replace the garage has been under discussion for more than 20 years, according to district officials.


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