The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 11, 2003


Delaying high school renovations

Last November the CCHS Space Utilization Committee completed a comprehensive plan for renovating the high school. It included a thoughtful analysis of the needs of the school, especially where it had outgrown its old facilities for arts, athletics and sciences (See 12/6/02 issue on the web at However, the estimated $45 million price tag for the entire project seemed steep, especially at a time of slowing economic growth, increasing unemployment and decreasing state aid. After some debate, the Regional School Committee (RSC) voted to divide the project into two phases (See 12/20/02 issue). Three weeks ago, the RSC voted to delay requesting any funding for the project at least until the fall. Both decisions were prudent.

No one disagrees that the high school facilities need renovating. The physical plant is deteriorating rapidly and today's educational needs are not efficiently accommodated in yesterday's spaces. For example, shop and home economics are no longer part of the curriculum, and their former teaching areas are underutilized while other areas are overcrowded. However, all of these renovations were included in a building plan proposed three years ago at half the cost or less. Voters in both towns need to understand, in detail, why the facilities and the expense have escalated by such a large factor.

A particularly compelling reason to delay the renovation is that the state has put all school building projects on hold, at least until the end of the fiscal year. In the past decade, the state reimbursed up to 60% of the cost of school construction. Although the state's School Building Assistance Bureau (SBAB) is expected to show some life this summer, a $6 billion deficit in the state operating budget will likely result in a much lower reimbursment formula. Clearly, what the community can afford will depend greatly on magnitude of the reimbursement.

The RSC can be certain that the vast majority of Concord and Carlisle citizens support excellent schools and agree that their high school must to be properly renovated, not just patched up. But in difficult economic times, we Yankees need to examine the needs, look at what we can do without, consider the alternatives, and mull it over before we reach into our pockets.

The Future of "Lonelyville"

Carlisle's communal soul-searching over its future comes at a crucial moment: the gray blob of urban blahs is at the town line. And I say, three cheers for "agrarian romanticism" · the phrase of one concerned townsperson at the March 22 Planning Day. It was offered, however, in apparent exasperation over Carlisle's stubborn and starry-eyed adherence to a "no-growth vision in a high-growth area." Good point. The challenge then, how to bend without breaking.

Darragh Murphy's excellent summary of the meeting (Mosquito, March 28) has 85 people · "from ten to 75" · figuratively gathered around the campfire, sorting through the stresses and strains · or, as Darragh put it, the "complications and contradictions" · inherent in resisting suburbia's standardized wilderness of widened blacktop and subdivisions without becoming unsustainably expensive and isolated.

Of course, I'm relying on a published account of the meeting because I wasn't present, being a former Carlisle renter who moved when it was plain I'd never be able to afford a house there. Talk about a contradiction.

Yet I support Carlisle's right to cling to what one worried townsperson called its "island mentality" and remain a rarified, bucolic Brigadoon in a sea of rampant over-development. We all have a stake in preserving a few "green" spots amid the "gray." And I defend anyone's right to be a snob.

But it's not really about snobbery. Carlisle's long-term residents, few of them especially rich, most clinging to a vanishing sense of community, are being squeezed the hardest by the rampant school spending overrides and the oversized aspirations of the nouveau riche and their compliant developers. Then you have the duplicitous Chapter 40B "affordable housing" crowd with their "ten per cent" solution and cookie-cutter egalitarianism. A pox on their shabby houses. Carlisle is generous enough to resolve its own housing needs.

And in the "manure wars" over new animal boarding regulations, color me "brown." The Board of Health is in a bind here. But I submit that the sight of horses, goats, chickens, and cows and their redolence on the summer breeze keeps the urban blahs at bay and the town's bucolic, small-town character intact. I'm hoping for a compromise here.

Of course, we can't ignore the crie-de-coeur of that mother of small children consigned, as she put it, to "Lonelyville" by the isolating effects of two-acre zoning. She's right. And once grown to teenagers, her children might find Kimball Farm a pale, sanitized substitute for the boom-box conviviality of some distant Dairy Queen. So it is with life on any "island." A pub, or perhaps a tea room in the library, might help a little here.

I now live in a town on reality's "mainland," Clinton, Massachusetts, hard-scrabble home to Irish, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, plastic and cereal makers, a Catholic church of unsurpassed beauty, a big dam and the gorgeous Wachusett reservoir. I'm in a stucco carriage house tucked behind two big Victorians with wonderful neighbors · except for the mysterious house to the south, with the sodden sofa, rusty washing machine, broken bicycles stacked against a dumpster and the Doberman pinscher which regularly makes large deposits by my foundation. Which means I'll need a fence soon, creating, I'm afraid, my own little island.

And I'll dream occasionally of the splendid isolation among the pines back in "Lonelyville."


2003 The Carlisle Mosquito