Friday, October 5, 2001
How urgent is a new school?
Last week the school building committee presented the results of a feasibility study for school expansion, urgently recommending that a new campus for grades Pre-K through 2 be built as quickly as possible on the town-owned Banta-Davis Land, one quarter mile east of the current school. The cost is estimated at $13 million. The state will partially reimburse the town at a rate to be established, but certainly lower than in the past. It is likely that the town will need to bear at least 50 percent of the total cost. In addition, in the next five years, the town's 1,875 households will also be asked to split the cost of a $1.2 million sewage treatment plant, new roofs and other major repairs at the current Carlisle Schools, rebuilding CCHS facilities, and paying for the new fire truck and DPW dump truck. We may also need to fund an affordable housing development and a full-time fire department.
In recent years the school census has grown at the highest rates in history, and currently stands at 850 students, fifty short of the maximum capacity of 900. It appears inevitable that, over the long run, the elementary school population will grow and that some expansion of facilities will be needed. What is not certain is the rate of population growth in the immediate future and, consequently, the urgency of school expansion. The state has forecast 1,200 students in 2030, at town "build-out," when all available land is developed. However, this estimate does not predict how quickly we will get there.
We all agree that the world changed dramatically last month. The economy, already shaky before September 11, slid into recession, real estate sales dropped, and new lay-offs are being announced every day. The Carlisle Finance Committee is predicting that growth in Carlisle will slow substantially in the next year.
Before we can commit to funding a new school, population growth rates and specific school space needs for the next ten years need to be re-investigated. The options to add on to the current campus should continue to be reviewed, especially as some parking space may be available at the adjacent Congregational Church.
Do we really have a "critical and immediate need" for a new school, as presented by the school building committee? In a small town with high taxes and many financial challenges ahead, timing is everything.
My hefty Webster's unabridged dictionary (free from the swap shop) says the word community is derived from the Latin communitas, meaning fellowship, and from communes, meaning common. But where does a sense of community come from and how does it develop?
In the wake of September 11 we talked with pride and respect about the demonstration of community shown by New Yorkers who cheered for firemen and police. We loved the woman who took unclaimed children from a day care center and cared for them in her home. We, too, wanted to help in any way we could. We felt a distant, but very real part of the national community.
In Carlisle we share a geographical space, but one in which two-acre zoning and commuter schedules can work to keep people apart. In the absence of an overriding public response to an event, such as happened in New York, community develops when people can come together and act together. Apart from Old Home Day and Patriot's Day, Carlisle has few public opportunities for all residents to express community spirit. Not everyone chooses to vote or to participate in town meeting, which are other ways of expressing a civic spirit.
Individuals within the town do participate in many aspects of community life. Some volunteer on town committees and help attend to Carlisle's business. The town also fosters activities that address human needs, such as the Council on Aging and its transportation van. The Diment tot lot provides opportunities for young children to play together and, just as importantly, gives mothers of young children, who might otherwise be confined to the house, a chance to visit and share. An ongoing need for more playing fields is evidence of a demand for interaction through sports. All kinds of shared interests and beliefs bring people together churches and church activities, the Historical Society, hiking, and bird walks. Informal gatherings, such as book clubs and play reading groups, generate sub-groups within the larger community.
A sense of community can develop when there is a defined activity and a space for that activity. Unfortunately, Carlisle has no place where residents may go to meet or chat. One friend suggested that we need something on the order of an English pub, where you do not need a hobby, an event or a cause to meet with your neighbors, and where you don't have to join or pay money. When the old St. Irene's church building came on the market, many residents thought the site would be ideal for such a place. A fiscally wary town meeting thought otherwise and voted against the purchase. When the former White house, adjacent to the library, was for sale, another opportunity was lost.
There can't be a meeting without a place to meet, and of course, there can't be a place to meet without funding, and there can't be funding unless residents will come to town meeting and vote for it. We stand at a moment in time when the value of a supportive community has been demonstrated during a national crisis. We need only look at attendance at town meeting to see how much further our town needs to go in this direction, Creating a place to meet will be a first step in building community in our town.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito