Follow the Facts: Heath Center is not now and never has been under threat. 12/29/2020
Save the Center is more of a concept than a reality. It was invented as a campaign slogan for Bob Bourke’s unsuccessful run for Select Board. It was intended to imply, without evidence, that his opponent, Brian DeVriese, was somehow against saving the center.
The slogan has also been used to imply that
Using the school to meet current challenges has nothing to do, one way or another, with abandoning the center. It’s not a zero-sum game. Some of the town’s needs have been well known to us for many years. Some, like the pandemic and the economic fallout from it, are totally unexpected. The Board is elected to make prudent decisions about the operation of the town based on factual information and real challenges. They cannot do their jobs on the basis of a divisive and misleading campaign slogan. First and foremost, they are responsible for the safety of townspeople and our employees. They have to follow the facts and make their decisions based on the best information they can gather.
Using the school is making the best use of a building we own to meet the needs and challenges the town faces. Not using the school to meet our needs simply means denying ourselves use of a building we own and pay for. It is throwing money away.
Preserving the center and using the former elementary school are not mutually exclusive. Many people in town are committed to both. There is benefit to the town in preserving and using both. In the pandemic, without the former school building, the town would simply not have been able to function safely. The town, the Select Board, our employees and volunteers have invested tax dollars, grant money and considerable effort in improving and maintaining both. As a part of the new Heath Building Use Committee, all of the members of the former School Building Use Committee have enthusiastically embraced the Select Board’s charge to promote and use all available buildings for the benefit of the town and to go after opportunities to use them to generate revenue.
Neither abandoning the center, nor getting rid of 18 Jacobs Road will keep Heath’s tax rate from rising. The things that are pushing up our tax rate are our school costs and the cost of financing Broadband. Were we to sell either the school or the center buildings we might see a short-term reprieve, but in the long run, the taxes would continue to rise. Meanwhile, two separate town facilities task forces have shown that the buildings in Heath Center are inadequate to meet our needs now, let alone in the future. Given this, the only hope Heath has for meeting its building needs is to use the buildings we own. So far, we have not heard of any affordable alternative.
Finally, no one on our Select Board, neither Brian DeVriese, nor Robyn Provost Carlson, nor Gloria Fisher has ever, in any way, demonstrated by word or action any interest in abandoning the center. In fact, they have worked diligently to preserve and improve it. In particular, Brian and Robyn have put in many hours of their considerable building expertise and effort toward preserving and improving it. At the same time, they have helped the town realize revenue from the former school building and approved and encouraged projects that have brought benefits to the town at minimal cost to taxpayers.
Here is a list of just some of the building projects of just the past year to eighteen months,
It’s time to stop imagining bad things and acknowledge and build on the many ways our Select Board, employees and neighbors are working hard to preserve and maintain the town we all love. We need to put all of our assets to work to keep the town and its employees functioning and safe to the best of our abilities. It’s time to focus on facts and pull together to meet the very real and serious challenges we face.
- Pam Porter