[Newmarket NH] school officials found themselves on the defensive Wednesday night over the possibility that the school district would use eminent domain to take private property for the latest school building proposal.
Voters in March will decide on two articles pertaining to the building plan - a bond for nearly $1.28 million for fees related to the design and another for using existing funds, not bond money, to acquire two land parcels.
One of the parcels, 13 acres adjacent to Landroche Field and owned by Michael Weit and Debra Hale, is a cornerstone of the proposal as the would-be site of a new high school. The couple has so far rejected the district's overtures to buy the land, prompting the School Board to consider eminent domain as an option. The board could make the decision at its meeting next week.
The second parcel consists of 14 acres across Route 152 from the existing junior/senior high school. The owners, the Carpenter family, have been discussing a possible sale with school officials. That land would be used for athletic fields.
At Wednesday's hearing, Hale reinforced the couple's stance and countered a statement by one official that the couple had shown interest in selling the land several years ago, saying the land was among the last undeveloped parcels in the area and they wanted to keep it that way for their own recreational use.
"It has always been our intent to keep it in our family," she said.
Hale was responding to Superintendent Kathleen Murphy's contention during a Budget Committee hearing last weekend that the Weits had been willing to sell the land some years ago but that the Budget Committee had rejected the offer. After Wednesday's hearing, Hale explained that the offer had come from the previous owner, her mother-in-law.
"The deal fell through, so we quit looking and didn't move," she said.
Friends and neighbors of the Weits attended the hearing to support them. Lynda Criss, questioned the Facilities Committee's contention, in its written recommendation of the current proposal, that "there are no clear alternative sites in Newmarket suitable for construction."
School Board member Forrest Ransdell said the district looked at several other parcels that were rejected for various reasons, including insufficient size, too much wetland, the need for too much fill, and contamination by the gasoline additive MtBE.
If the current proposal fails, he said, "We would ... be back to that square one."
Criss likened the district's current approach to last year's failed plan to build a new school for grades six to 12 at the current Rockingham Country Club location.
"It seems to me and a lot of other people you're trying to railroad it through again," she said. "Nobody learned their lesson last year."
The public will have an opportunity to comment on any article on the warrant at another hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Town Hall auditorium.
Exeter NH News-Letter: http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/exeter