Voters in the three Pentucket Regional School District towns overwhelmingly supported a plan to build a combined middle and high school building at their Town Meetings on Monday night, ensuring the plan moves to the next important step – an affirmative vote by all three towns at the polls on May 6.
In Merrimac, so many people showed up that officials had all the chairs removed to make room for the 800-plus voters to stand as they churned through the warrant articles. But it was Article 6, asking voters whether they supported funding their share of the $146 million school project, that was the headliner. And with a hand count of 808-7, the Merrimac taxpayers said “yes” to a project that would lead to a state-of-the-art combined school building on the grounds in West Newbury where the two schools are now.
In West Newbury, the total vote and the margin were even greater on the new school plan: 986 in favor, 10 opposed. In Groveland, officials reported the article passed by a clear majority vote in both the cafeteria and the gym.
Efforts leading up to the affirmative votes involved something of a marathon for Pentucket Superintendent Justin Bartholomew and Principal Jonathan Seymour. Bartholomew, in particular, set up meetings in all three communities, and Seymour arranged guided tours of the aging high school building, which was constructed in the 1950s.
The principal arguments for a new combined school focused on the district receiving state approval for a $52.75 million Massachusetts School Building Authority grant toward the overall estimated $146 million cost, and the fact any plans for the district to do piecemeal repairs to either school would fall solely on local taxpayers, without any state help.
For the new building plan to go forward, voters in the three district towns needed to vote in the affirmative at their meetings — which they did Monday night — and again with affirmative votes at town elections May 6.
If the turnout at Monday’s Town Meetings and the overwhelming support shown in Merrimac, Groveland and West Newbury are any indication, the May 6 votes at the polls should be what the district needs to move ahead. But the project hasn’t yet crossed the finish line and voters who support it need to exercise their right to vote again, in favor, when the polls open.
The votes Monday night showed how strongly the Pentucket community has come together to support this essential project. That sense of community should continue to see this project through to a very proud and much-needed completion.