PELHAM -- In an historical vote that will impact the town and its population of public-school students for decades to come, 61 percent of Pelham voters said yes to a $22.6 million Pelham High School addition and renovation project.
The proposed bonding project, which appeared as Article 1 on the Pelham School District ballot Tuesday, required the approval of at least 60 percent of the 3,683 voters who turned out. Or a "magic number of 2,211," as School Board member Deb Ryan and other supporters of the comprehensive high-school makeover quickly figured out after the polls closed and before the results were announced.
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Ryan was first to recognize that the school project had achieved the necessary total of "yes" votes as soon as the totals for Article 1 were read by School Moderator Paul Leonard as "yes, 2,234; no, 1,463," he said.
"Yes! That's it, right?" Ryan asked the crowd of school and town officials and parents who were gathered around Leonard in the Pelham High gymnasium. Moments later, it was confirmed the measure had passed by all of 23 votes. Which is when the real celebration began, including multiple whoops and shouts of pure elation that filled the gym to the rafters.
"It's a great day for Pelham, a fantastic day for Pelham," said School Board Chairman Brian Carton, who was visibly shaking with adrenaline at the realization that after a decade of failed efforts at the ballot box, Pelham voters had finally been presented with a Pelham High School construction plan that at least three-fifths of the voters were willing to agree to.
"It's super-exciting," said Nicole Gellar, a member of the Pelham High Class of 2013, who graduated in June, as she exited the gym to join a post-election celebration of the vote at Chunky's Cinema Pub. Gellar's younger brother, Matthew, attends Pelham High currently, but it is her youngest brother, Sean, an eighth-grader, who will benefit most, she noted.
"I was very leery about it passing before tonight, especially with the last new high- school idea being voted down in 2010, but so many people were positive about this plan, I think that's what got it passed. I also think the younger voters came out and helped. But I really can't believe it happened."
Among the 3,683 voters who cast ballots in Pelham were 181 newly registered voters, Leonard said.
In three contested races on the ballot, incumbent Selectmen Doug Viger and Bill McDevitt held on to their seats versus challenger Paul Moriarty. Viger led all three candidates with 1,964 votes, McDevitt received 1,943, and Moriarty got 1,268 votes, in a strong showing for the first-time candidate.
In the three-candidate race for two seats on the Budget Committee, incumbent Chairman Dan Guimond was returned to the board, receiving 2,118 votes; also winning a seat, Robert Sherman received the lead total of 2,243 votes; Daryl Hillsgrove finished third with 2,098 votes.
Pelham voters also approved the selectmen-recommended town operating budget of $13,423,831, as well as the School Board-recommended school district budget of $22,654,000.
Voters also approved new contracts containing raises for the town's police officers and firefighters.
Article 9, proposing to amend the town's elderly exemption -- to make it a three-tier system and to eliminate the 100 percent exemption for those 80 years old and over -- passed by a vote of 2,334 to 1,148.
The contingent of Pelham voters known for voting "no" on their entire ballot did not disappear in Tuesday's election, however. On Article 7 on the town ballot, asking if the town should accept a $266,100 grant from the state of New Hampshire to use for road repair, 616 voters said "no," while 2,438 said "yes" to accepting the grant.
The turnout was 3,683 out of 8,772 registered voters according to Town Moderator Phil Currier, or 42 percent.
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