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School issue requires wisdom

If you live in Longmeadow you have probably noticed that services you once enjoyed are now extras that are not included in return for your tax dollars. A few weeks ago the Select Board talked seriously about taking away two more services we currently enjoy. A two million dollar revenue shortfall for 2011 may result in the closing of Storrs Library and the Senior Center. The alternative is, of course, another override and higher taxes for us all. On Feb. 1, the Longmeadow Select Board held another meeting. I sat for about an hour listening to young folks (adults and teens) plead for a lickety-split process to secure town approval of the School Building Committee's proposed $80 million project for a new high school. We were told repeatedly that time was flying by and anticipated costs for this, bigger than any previous town capital outlay, were escalating virtually out of control. They exhorted us to ignore the forest of needs currently facing the town and embrace their sacred tree before its rapidly expanding trunk exceeds the breadth of their frantic grasp. The irony of listening to people who have cavalierly rejected alternative options, less than half the cost of their $80 million extravaganza, suddenly express frantic concern over unrealistic predictions of cost escalation was surreal. In my nearly 50 years of professional architectural practice, I never heard such desperate exhortation to alacrity. I was almost compelled to bolt from the meeting, rush to the school and tear down that shabby edifice with my bare hands in hope of reining in the tsunami of excess cost currently rushing to engulf their platinum high school project. Hyperbole aside, the fact is that construction, along with the rest of the American economy, is in a slump and costs are not escalating on an hourly schedule. It is important to recognize that these sincere, but duped, young people were only regurgitating the misinformation that had been prepared for them by a group whose agenda is a new school, come hell or high water. The time for real concern over cost was several years ago when the School Committee refused to consider proposals for rehab of the existing building. Their claimed concern over cost at this time is a red herring designed to divert attention from the broad fiscal crisis that the people of Longmeadow must deal with. Fortunately there were several older and wiser participants at the meeting whose comments conveyed a more sober and realistic picture of the many other costly obligations, and equally pressing needs, facing the town of Longmeadow. They made clear that what was repeatedly referred to as the most expensive project ever proposed for our town is matched dollar for dollar by a host of other equally essential items. When the Select Board feels compelled to have serious discussion about closing Storrs Library and the Senior Center just to struggle through 2011, I have to wonder why the School Committee dares to even consider an $80 million high school project. We all agree that the high school is in need of refurbishing. Deciding what to do, when to do it, and how to do it will require the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and sufficient time for reflection, on the broad spectrum of town needs and obligations, by all of the people of Longmeadow. The tunnel vision and rush to judgment demanded by our misguided brothers and sisters would not only be inappropriate, it would also be unwise. Philip B. Fregeau Longmeadow
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