After school defeat Lincoln officials will ask state for more time

Lincoln officials will be asking the state for more time to generate support for a school building project after residents rejected the plan earlier this month.

Officials will also be asking the town’s Finance Committee for up to $30,000 to pay for potential design changes.

A two-thirds vote was needed at Town Meeting on Nov. 3 in order for the $49.9 million Lincoln School project to move forward, but it lost by a vote of 370 in favor to 321 against. Residents raised concerns about the environmental and aesthetic impact to the rural school campus, the cost, and overall process for developing the plan, which called for a combination of renovation and new construction.

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School Committee chairwoman Jennifer Glass said that before officials come up with a specific plan to appease opponents, they must first persuade the Massachusetts School Building Authority to give the town more time. The state had agreed to pay $20.9 million toward the project as long as the town approved it.

“The feeling is we need to see if the MSBA is willing to give us a little more time to determine where we are,’’ Glass said. “We feel as though we need some time to piece that all out.’’

When a school district fails to approve funding for a proposed project, school officials must submit a plan to the building authority within 10 days that presents the vote results, outlines possible reasons why the vote failed, and describes the school district’s plan to remedy the failed vote. The authority will review the plan and determine whether it can continue to set aside funds for the proposed project, said Matthew Donovan, the agency’s chief of staff.

“We have to wait and see what they have to say, and talk to them to see if their plan makes sense,’’ Donovan said.

Glass said Lincoln officials were working to get a letter submitted to the state by the deadline, which was last Friday.

Donovan said the state has approved a specific plan so if the town makes changes, officials would have to resubmit a statement of interest for funding and start from the beginning.

Alvin Schmertzler, chairman of the Lincoln School Building Committee, said he is confident that the officials can address the concerns if they get the time.

“It’s not yet dead,’’ Schmertzler said. “It may be on a respirator but we are working diligently to not only keep it alive but resuscitate it.’’

Schmertzler said officials have made contact with some of the outspoken opponents and are working with them to find a middle ground.

Resident Ken Hurd, an architect, said he is among the group of residents working with the building committee. He said he is not opposed to improvements at the school campus but wants to see it done in a way that protects the character of the town. Hurd said the proposed design called for demolishing the Smith Building on the school campus, constructing a new building that would eat up open space and place all parking in full view.

“It looked like a suburban office park, and that’s not the Lincoln way,’’ Hurd said. “It lacked character and uniqueness.’’

Hurd said he thinks it’s important for Lincoln to do what’s best for the town in the long term. “I think we’ll be able to resolve this. That’s my hope.’’

Selectwoman Renel Fredriksen was the only board member who opposed the plan. She said she thinks the classroom space was too small and did not account for future growth. She said Lincoln has an aging population, which means some older residents may move out or downsize, and open up homes for younger families.

Fredriksen said she was also disappointed in the process that was used to develop the plan.

“I would like to see a new process where we engage more people in town,’’ she said. “I feel it was a fairly closed process. There was no real outreach. It tended to be a lot of information going in one direction.’’

If the plan is done properly, Fredriksen said, she thinks residents will rally around to support it because Lincoln has a long history of supporting its schools.

“The school is something that’s very precious to the residents of this town,’’ she said. “We value education tremendously. The town wants a project they can approve.’’