Thursday, November 26, 2009

School architects release schematic designs

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, the architects that have been hired to work on the Concord School District's elementary school consolidation plan unveiled their latest schematics to the public.
The meeting lasted about 2.5 hours, with an initial discussion about the schematics and some of the highlights, a collection of breakout groups analyzing the three proposals, and then a Q&A/comment period at the end.
The school board will reportedly meet on Dec. 7 to finalize bonding plans - $65 million over 30 years, at 5 to 6 percent interest, for a total cost to taxpayers of $89 million to $97 million [these costs also assume that the state of New Hampshire will pony up a 40 percent reimbursement on the principal of the building costs]. The board will supposedly meet on Dec. 22 to hold a final vote on bonding. School board president Kass Ardinger stated at the meeting that if the state funding was not secure, the District could not move forward with plans.

Below I have a few pictures of the schematics presented with short explanations and some quick comments. I was unable to get pictures of everything since I took them at the beginning of the event when people were looking at them. So, some of my angles are a bit odd and the people moving back and forth limited my ability to take pictures.
I'm told the school system will post PDFs of the plans online soon. I'll link the PDFs when I get a chance. Readers should be able to click on the pictures to enlarge them for better viewing.

A new Conant School [merged with Rumford students]

This picture shows a proposed new Conant Elementary School on the current Conant footprint. The proposed building is closer to South Street and utilizes the Rundlett Middle School entrance to circle the drop-off and staff traffic around the school.
This proposal would knock down the current school, a historic building, first constructed in 1929 and renovated a number of times over the years.
Conant should probably have protected historical status on the national registry at this point but doesn't, as far as I can tell.

A new Dame-Eastman School [attached to Broken Ground]

This picture shows a schematic of the proposed new Dame-Eastman School attached to Broken Ground Elementary School.
The building will be two floors (the second floor will be about half the size of the first floor), with each grade separated in its own section.
The plan includes a separate preschool drop-off in the far end of the building and also tweaks traffic flow around the schools.
I overheard a few abutters to the parcel saying they liked the new traffic flow since the current flow is a hornet's nest.

This picture shows the current footprint of Broken Ground School.
Note the note in the upper left hand corner: Open Space can be preserved for future use. I thought open space was, well, open space. Maybe they should have labeled it "The District's acreage goes to X line ..."

A new Kimball School [merged with Walker students]

Here is a side view of a potential new Kimball School.
The architects noted that the school was wider and lower, with the basement floor at ground level, to blend in with the height of other buildings in the neighborhood.

Here is how the new school would look in the rest of the neighborhood.
Note the missing seven houses the District purchased for $2-plus million a few years back, at the height of the housing market.
Also, note the odd reconfigured traffic pattern, with staff parking on the lower left hand corner, and entrances at the middle right and upper left sides of the building. Basically, the plan for both renovated and new Kimball schematics have the school's main traffic entering and exiting onto Pleasant Street, just off the intersection with Spring streets. This does not seem like the smartest idea to me.

A renovated Kimball School [merged with Walker students]

The next three pictures show a renovated Kimball School.
It was interesting - and puzzling - to see such a high concentration of focus on the amphitheatre/playground concepts with both plans. I would expect that with a high school or even a middle school, but with an elementary school? I don't know.

This shows a side view of the renovated school which is not much different than the current school.

This one shows another aerial view of the renovated school plan which is just about how the building looks today.

At the hearing, a number of residents brought up some extremely relevant points which poked some large holes in the plans (there were about 40 or so non-school connected attendees ... all those school officials really pack a room ...).
A woman and a teenage boy in a wheelchair made the case that the school district should be using ramp schemes and not elevators to move children around. She noted that the Concord School District was a model for inclusiveness and these schemes all had elevators, essentially separating the handicapped from the rest of the school population. The woman also noted that emergency escape was much easier with ramps than stairs and elevators.
A historic preservationist made some good points about the fact that the she was happy that the plan was finally coming together and other issues, but seemed to hint that the plans weren't quite ready yet. She also stated that there were still preservation issues to address and the issue of whether new, green buildings can catch up on carbon footprints of the renovated buildings.
A number of residents questioned where the room was for expansion on some of the footprints since most people assume that the population of Concord will grow in the future, including more children (especially at Kimball and Conant). The board members didn't have much to say about this. Their basic answer is that they will be holding onto the old school buildings they are decommissioning and could potentially recommission them if needed (at a cost of millions of dollars. BTW, none of this $97 million includes the cost of renovating one of the other buildings, probably Dewey or Rumford, for a school administration building ... that will probably mean multi-millions more there too).
According to documents that I obtained at a recent Saturday retreat of the school board members, the issue of future growth and enrollments is a relevant one. The school board is only looking at enrollments for the next 15 years or so. But the state has estimates for as far ahead as 2030, which shows Concord in the 60,000-plus range. If these projections are true, these buildings will be over capacity in just 19 years ... at a cost of nearly $100 million. I also mentioned this issue in my comments. However, most of the school board members are not listening, they are just forging ahead with the flawed plans.
Surprisingly, there was limited outcry about knocking down Conant or the Dame/Eastman consolidation. I was over in the Conant area, listening in the background, and most of those parents seemed excited about a new school.
When I discussed with some people about the need to spread the schools out, specifically to address new population growth, there were comments that it wouldn’t be an issue. When I mentioned that building a Dame-Eastman right next to Broken Ground would essentially disenfranchise many Dame students, forcing them to be bussed and driven to that school, I was told that in surveys and discussions, most parents said they drove their kids anyway because of the traffic issues on Loudon Road. There was little opposition to the general idea of consolidating those schools, allegedly, which was something that I found surprising.
There was also some discussion about the new library media lab concept. Essentially, they are replacing traditional libraries, set to one side of the building, with a library/media center set in the middle of each school. Instead of having narrow hallways, the hallways will be widened and include media pods flowing down the middle of the hallways.
While I personally think the media lab pod concept is interesting, my gut reaction to this is that I would rather have my kids in the library reading books and not in a media lab. They get enough of that at home, watching their parents staring into electronic boxes all day and night, figuring out how to pay the bills for all these schemes. None of us get enough time to read books, magazines, or the newspaper. If we did ...
In addition, my eldest son is already pretty savvy on the computer, Internet, and digital camera. I've shown him a lot already. I'm sure my second son will be just as aware of technology too. What I really want is for teachers and library aides to expand my children's horizons in ways that I can't.
So, let's not mess up the process of letting the kids go to a library, where they can read actual books, from actual authors and writers, and get help from a librarian or library aide, instead of staring at the damn boxes all day.
Also, when I asked one of the architects after the event where we could see this concept in action, to make sure it was right for our kids, he said there wasn't a location available and it was a new concept. That immediately sent up red flags and reminded me of the open classroom concepts of the 1970s that school districts couldn't wait to abandon because they were disastrous.
So, while teachers may think this is a neat idea and inables collaborative teaching opportunities, it is probably a mistake.
Another person questioned the safety of the children from a violent attack or a fire, noting that the escape routes will have pods in the middle of the hallway. This also seems like a relevant point. Better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes.
I spoke last at the meeting and instead of going off on a tangent, I made a few points.
I admitted that I didn't support the school consolidation concept because it costs too much money.
I also made the point that my family has lived in Concord for more than 100 years and my parents and grandparents attended these historic schools (I'm also a product of the Concord public school system but didn't attend elementary school here). Many of us are fond of them and they shouldn't be knocked down.
After that, I made more conceptual points about how the plan doesn't work. Specifically, the enrollment doesn't work: The 2030 state projections blow a hole in their plans. Potentially, in 20 years, we could be spending millions more renovating the other schools or building additions. I told them that they needed to spend more time not planning on building schools that are too small but ones that will last another 50 to 100 years. I said that while most school board members will be long gone in 20 years, the next generation of taxpayers is going to be furious that they will still be paying for these new schools while having to come up with millions more because the plan was flawed (BTW, the issue of a new Rundlett Middle School or maybe two middle schools is on the horizon, in the next 15 to 20 years).
I did limit my comments and didn't take a lot of time. I thanked the other people who made points and said it all proved that we need to slow down the plan and do this right.
Of course, my comments seemed to fall on deaf ears but at least I gave it a try.
There are a ton of other reasons to reject this plan. I hope to explore some of these ideas in the future when I have more time.


Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Where are all the kids going to be while they are decommissioning or destroying existing schools and building these new ones at Conant and Kimball?

Anonymous said...
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Tony said...
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Jeremy said...

Got to love it. If you can't come up with something helpful for the debate, bash the person you're debating, or better yet, bash their children.

I don't understand how people can think it's acceptable to force their neighbors to pay for other people's education. Stop wasting vast quantities of my tax money. I have an 8 month old son, and am already saving so I can send him to a private school. Don't worry though, I'll be sending your children to school as well.