Residents oppose total HS purchase

by Rachel Osterman | 11/21/00 6:00am

It appears area residents are decisively against proposed plans negotiated between the College and local school district for Dartmouth to buy the entire property occupied by Hanover High and Middle Schools, but the community members who attended an open meeting last night expressed more enthusiasm for the possibility of Dartmouth buying a smaller portion of that property.

Among the approximately 200 people who attended what was an occasionally hostile -- though more often informative -- meeting, the idea of Dartmouth buying and then converting the entire Lebanon Street property struck a particularly unpopular chord.

A total buyout would remove the entire school and community base from the downtown area, according to many of those who attended.

"We want it to be the Town of Hanover, not the Town of Dartmouth," said one parent.

Following the gradual overcrowding of Hanover High, the Dresden School District -- which includes the towns of Hanover and Norwich, Vt. -- has been looking to expand beyond its current facilities.

The possibility of Dartmouth buying some or all of the Lebanon Street property when the district approached the College seeking financial aid for the expansion.

Since then, the two parties have been in preliminary negotiations, and they discussed publicly an array of options for the first time last night.

The meeting was presented as a chance for the area community to provide feedback on what are still very tentative plans that do not yet include any cost estimates.

In some of the options presented, Dartmouth would buy part or all of the Lebanon Street site. But the district is also considering expanding without selling any land to the College.

What proved to be more favored options included the College buying part of the Lebanon Street property and using it for athletic fields, while leaving the Middle School where it currently stands.

Under that scenario, the High School would be moved to land already owned by the College across from the golf course in Hanover or to a site in Norwich.

Dresden School Board member Geoff Vitt told the audience that the school district would only be interested in selling land to the College "if it will substantially reduce the tax burden in both towns."

Dartmouth has reported that of all the options, it would prefer to buy the entire property and use it for a combination of playing fields, faculty, staff and graduate housing and parking. Secondly, Dartmouth has decided it would prefer to buy part of the 28 acre plot and use it for field space.

One option on the table would mean leaving both the middle and high schools where they currently are, but renovating them significantly.

Though such a plan was among the more favored, it was also estimated as the most expensive -- and some participants last night questioned the long-term viability of not expanding more substantially.

Another of the more costly -- though popular -- possibilities is leaving the high school where it is now, but moving the Middle School to the property on Reservoir Road currently owned by the College.

"The reason why I like splitting up the schools is because you have the ability to build the best possible facilities," commented one Hanover father.

Though no single consensus emerged from last night's meeting, several patterns were clear.

Area residents were noticeably skeptical of the College interfering too much in the Dresden district. Though the moderator stressed that the College's first priority in the negotiations was not to intrude in local matters, community members repeatedly questioned the prospect of an even more Dartmouth-dominated town.

Overall, participants were most receptive to keeping either the middle or high school on the current property -- and selling the remaining part to the College depending on considerations such as cost.

Though they were few in number, the Hanover High students who attended the meeting told The Dartmouth that students there were very wary of being relocated from the downtown area.

They also said that middle school students would prefer to be adjacent to their older counterparts, but that most of the high schoolers and middle schoolers understand that current space crunches might necessitate relocation.