School buildings’ future on Orange warrant

  • Here is what the new Fisher Hill Elementary School would look like with a three-story addition built onto its northern side. Annual Town Meeting voters will be asked on Monday to approve a debt exclusion as part of the plan to add onto Fisher Hill and demolish Dexter Park Innovation School. Contributed image

Staff Writer
Published: 6/12/2020 2:00:45 PM
Modified: 6/12/2020 2:00:31 PM

ORANGE — Annual Town Meeting voters will be asked on Monday to approve a debt exclusion as part of a plan to build a three-story addition onto Fisher Hill Elementary School and demolish Dexter Park Innovation School.

If the debt exclusion passes at Annual Town Meeting, voters will then have to visit the polls at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School on June 22 to ratify the debt exclusion, according to Bruce Scherer, chair of the Orange School Building Committee.

Annual Town Meeting is set to begin immediately following a 6 p.m. Special Town Meeting on Monday at the Mahar football field. According to the town’s website, there will be approximately 200 chairs set up 6 feet apart from one another to allow for social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and voters will be required to wear face masks. The rain date is Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the same location.

Dexter Park was built in 1951 and the Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-independent government authority, designated it a “Category 4” school, its lowest rating, in 2006. This showed a need for significant repairs or replacement. In 2018, voters approved funding a feasibility study to study the Dexter Park problem and yield options for repair or replacement.

The new Fisher Hill facility, which would house all of Orange’s elementary-age students, is set to serve the educational needs of children for at least 50 years.

Another article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant asks if voters will appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the money needed to remove asbestos from Dexter Park and repair a deteriorating concrete floor there. Martin Goulet, of Hill International Inc., the company managing the Fisher Hill project on behalf of the town, attended the Orange Selectboard’s virtual meeting on May 20, where he explained that repairing the floor would remedy the problem for the remaining three to five years the building is expected to be used.

He said dampness in a crawlspace has caused pieces of the concrete floor to deteriorate and even pop off, and part of a reinforcement bar is exposed. He said the fix involves putting posts under the center of all of the floor joists in a relatively simple process.

“We don’t have to do a tremendous amount of construction to return the strength to the floor,” he said. “But we do have to get down in that crawlspace to do the work. The complication there is that the crawlspace is contaminated with asbestos.”

Also on the Town Meeting warrant, the Orange Finance Committee is recommending a level-funded $4.3 million Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District budget and a level-funded $6.6 million elementary schools budget as part of the Finance Committee’s recommended $21.3 million omnibus budget for the town. This total figure is up $92,468.35 from the current fiscal year. As always, articles can be amended by voters at the meeting.

One article asks voters if they are willing to appropriate $745,084 for the Water Enterprise Fund for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and another pertains to appropriating $738,086 for the WWTP/Sewer Enterprise Fund. Another article asks if voters will appropriate $72,161 from the Ambulance Receipts Reserved for Appropriation Account for the final payment for the Orange Fire Department ambulance.

There is one petitioned article on the warrant, and it asks voter if they will authorize the Selectboard to dedicate the town parking lot across from the Community Clothing Center on West Main Street to “honor Mrs. Hazel Lackey for her decades of care and service to the citizens of Orange and surrounding towns.” An affirmative vote would also authorize the purchase of a plaque paid for by volunteer donations.

The entire warrant can be viewed at

A Special Town Meeting is slated to start at 6 p.m. Orange Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer explained the meeting will pertain to the current fiscal year’s budget.

This warrant consists of five articles. One of them asks voters if they agree to transfer $83,211.14 from free cash to “Snow and Ice” to cover a deficit.

The Special Town Meeting warrant can be found at

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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