GORHAM — The School Department Tuesday landed the go-ahead to build a new, controversial $750,000 kitchen at the town’s expanding Narragansett Elementary School.

The project requires Planning Board approval.

The Town Council Tuesday in a Zoom session deadlocked 3-3, failing to send the proposed kitchen to a referendum.

Town Council Chairman Suzanne Phillips called for a roll call vote. Those favoring a referendum were Councilors Ben Hartwell, Virginia Wilder Cross and Phillips. Those opposing a referendum were Council Vice Chairman Ron Shepard and Councilors Jim Hager and Lee Pratt. Councilor Janet Kuech, a school employee, recused herself.

After a 3-3 Town Council vote, the School Department received approval Tuesday to build a new kitchen at Narragansett School. File photo

School officials will fund the kitchen with $500,000 left over from a previous $2.8 million referendum last June that authorized modular classrooms and a cafeteria space at Narragansett School along with $249,000 from the school’s operating budget. The School Committee approved building the kitchen in February.

Referendum proponents contend a kitchen was not in original modular plans and that the town charter requires a referendum for a project over $250,000. Phillips said the council’s responsibility is to the taxpayers.

“It’s about the appropriate expenditure of the bond money,” she said.

Hartwell warned that opposing a referendum could lead to a lawsuit. He said there’s no question the kitchen is needed, but the problem lies in the fact that it wasn’t in the scope of the original project.

The matter marked the second attempt to send the kitchen issue to voters. It was brought up last month but the effort failed when the Town Council took no action on it.

School officials say the existing kitchen needs to be relocated to also serve students in the modular classrooms.

Superintendent Heather Perry told councilors Tuesday that a deadline could not be met when school opens next fall if the kitchen was placed on the next referendum.

Tuesday’s Town Council vote followed a lengthy public comment period from callers and submitted emails from residents.

Terry Webber said in an email to Hartwell that the kitchen “absolutely should go to referendum” because the town charter requires it.

“If we are no longer going to abide by the rules and town charter, we will fall in to chaos. The School Committee does not seem to be concerned with following the rules and charter so long as they get what they want,” Webber said.

Dale Rines wrote that the $250,000 dollar figure is in the town charter for a reason.

“If inflation has made it too low, first step is to raise it. But, even doubling it to $500,000 will not cover this item,” Rines said.

Former Town Councilor Michael Phinney wrote, “It is a project that will almost certainly get voter approval, so why risk the voters’ trust by trying to sneak something through? I would really recommend that the council send this out to the voters for their approval.”

Michelle Inman Carlson was concerned about welfare of students.

“By sending this back to the residents to vote, during a time when voting may be postponed, is only punishing the students of Narragansett School. When they return (most likely in the fall) they deserve a place to eat that is safe, calm and can easily support the student body’s needs,” Carlson wrote.

Danielle Maffei-O’Keefe said, “I am writing to express my utter disgust with the Town Council’s decision to revisit the relocation of the kitchen at Narragansett, during a time when public opinion cannot be heard.”

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