HARVARD -- Overcoming questions of accessibility and funding, a majority of selectmen voted in favor of an appropriation from the Rantoul Trust to help cover the cost of moving the town's cable television studio to The Bromfield School.
In a 3-2 decision taken Dec. 18, selectmen voted to support a proposal by the Cable Advisory Committee and school officials that the town contribute $27,000 toward expenses to be incurred when the television studio is moved from its current location in the old library to a new site at the school.
The Dec. 18 vote will allow residents to weigh in on the issue when the appropriation measure appears on the warrant at annual town meeting next spring.
At issue was a proposal by the Cable Advisory Committee to move the town's cable television studio from the old library to a state of the art facility to be created at Bromfield for a total cost of $93,000.
With $39,000 already covered, the school district agreed to split the remaining $54,000 with the town leaving Harvard responsible for only $27,000 of the total cost, a sum that selectman William Johnson described as "dirt cheap."
That view, however, did not sway other board members from their doubts about the proposal.
In particular, Timothy Clark insisted that a key component missing in design plans for the new studio was accessibility for the handicapped.
"I want to support the program," insisted Clark.
But, Clark continued, the ground floor studio needed to be accessible and argued in favor of moving its classroom space to the floor above where it could be accessed through the main school building.
The lack of consideration of the second floor space prompted Clark to ask why the project was being treated as a "second class" program by its supporters.
Affronted, school officials and cable committee members erupted into loud protests that no such thing was going on.
"I want to get the best possible space for the best possible program," temporized Clark.
The meeting opened with a brief presentation of the proposal by Cable Committee member John Burns who reminded selectmen that a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) had been drawn up detailing issues of funding and program services the different parties had previously agreed upon.
Before that, members of the public had the chance to speak including high school junior Alexia Lipman who argued in favor of the move.
"We can do so much more," said film club member Lipman of what a new studio conveniently located in their school would mean to students.
"This is an opportunity for students interested in technology to have a home," agreed resident Ellen Sachs Lacher.
"We're very happy with the design," said Burns of the new studio space. "I think this is a win for everyone involved."
But after Clark had voiced his concerns regarding accessibility and even ceiling height, Johnson noted that the studio site itself was not intended for classroom space. It's activities, strictly speaking, were not part of the school's curriculum or necessarily to be used for extracurricular activity.
"This is not designed nor intended as the one and only solution," Johnson said of the admittedly imperfect location adding that the school's administration knew best how to arrange for the studio.
There's nothing in town that came close to Bromfield as the ideal location for a new studio concluded Johnson.
Nevertheless, Clark persisted in his argument for locating the studio on the upper floor.
"Why is this not an acceptable swap," Clark wanted to know. Why was there such reluctance on the part of planners to consider the move?
Chiming in, fellow board member Marie Sobalvarro questioned the urgency of the funding request and why exactly $27,000 was needed. Sobalvarro said she was uncomfortable about using money from the Rantoul Trust for such a purpose.
At that point, school officials began to show some frustration with the discussion with School Committee member Keith Cheveralls reminding selectmen that the School Department had acceded to every request and condition raised by the board.
Cheveralls' protest stirred board member Ronald Ricci to move the question of the appropriation request but agreed to withdraw his demand when chairman Lucy Wallace said she had other questions to ask including whether the School Department would commit itself to paying any unforeseen costs.
Clark then stepped in to amend the motion to appropriate the $27,000 by seeking assurance from the School Committee nailing down the $39,000 outstanding cost.
Talk began on holding off a vote on the $27,000 with a subsequent meeting of the BOS to be held the following Friday after an emergency meeting of the School Committee on the same day wherein a vote of assurance would be held.
"We are abrogating our responsibilities," said an exasperated Johnson of the maneuvering. "We are abdicating our responsibility to the community by pushing all the risk onto others. We're just kicking the can down the road."
Johnson's appeal ended in a straight vote whether the board should recommend the appropriation from the Rantoul Trust funds or not with the motion passing 3-2 with Clark and Sobalvarro in dissent.
Also at the Dec. 18 meeting, selectmen:
* Voted to appoint Beth Williams to fill an unexpired term on the Community Preservation Committee.
* Learned that the Fire Department had received a grant of $25,000 from the Commonwealth Security Trust Fund to pay for extraction equipment such as "the jaws of life."
* Decided to make no changes in the town's existing fee structure regarding residential vs, commercial solar energy permits.