Sunday, December 20, 2009

The eve of Concord's elementary school consolidation votes

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the Concord School Board will hold public hearings about the impending elementary school consolidation plan. On Monday night at 6 p.m., the board will vote to approve design schemes; on Tuesday night at 6 p.m., it will vote to authorize the bonds. Both public hearings will take place in the administration office building at 16 Rumford St.

Before the vote, here are some things for readers to ponder:

First, there is the project's true cost. This morning, the Concord Monitor did report that the project would cost between "$99.7 million and $124 million including interest over 30 years." I think this is the first or second time they have done that, which is good. But, again, they missed figuring in the state aid and stabilization money, which lowballs the true cost.
These estimates of between $99.7M to $124M assume that the state will make $29.8 million in small bi-annual payments for the life of the note. In addition, as Business Manager Michelle Croteau confirmed on Thursday night, the district plans on kicking in $2.7 million in stabilization money right off the bat.
This raises the true total cost of the project to between $133 million and $157 million based on current construction estimates. That is a much larger - and more accurate - figure than $100M to $124M.

If the state aid ends any day along the way in this project, the residents in the Concord School District will all be on the hook for the total price of the project. This will necessitate much higher tax increases, probably around 3 percent each year, for the life of the loan. These tax increases do not include any new operating cost increases that the school district may need. State representatives and officials have told the school board time and time again that the state cannot be trusted to fulfill its obligations on school building construction aid. They are already bonding payments into the future! They don't have the money! In other words, everyone in the Concord School District should be prepared: We will probably all be on the hook for the entire price.

No matter what anyone says, it is not eight to five - it's eight to four (or truly, nine to four, since Dewey was only closed about six years ago which prompted this entire process). The Dame-Eastman consolidation is not a new school - in its current design scheme, it is an addition to Broken Ground. It will have the same heating system, all the grades will share gym and performance space, and, probably, the schools will have the same (or very similar) maintenance, cooking, and administration staffing. It is not a new school. When this project is done, there will be four elementary schools; not five. Officials and the Monitor keep talking as if it is a new school - it isn't. Look at the schematics for yourselves. It's an addition to Broken Ground.

The Kimball footprint is too small for 500 kids. The state recommends that new elementary schools be built on at least 10 acres. The school district somehow managed to get a waiver to this in order to build on less than 3 acres. It is a mistake. Look at the designs posted here for yourself. There has been no traffic study for the new routes; the architects say the grade between Rumford and Spring street could be a problem; etc.
Then, there is the fight over whether or not to renovate the old building - which will mean knocking down Morrill and seven houses but basically keeping the front part of the building - or constructing a new school, again, on a very small footprint. As noted elsewhere here, there are other options for constructing a new school somewhere else in West Concord while selling off the other buildings to lower the debt. There are many parcels which are available to the school district. They say they have looked at them but they haven't really. They talked to the city planning department a few times. That's just not good enough when it comes to saving an important part of our community heritage AND building the best possible school for our children.

Personally, as I stated in the Monitor piece last week, I think the district should consolidate to six schools and make small renovations and additions to those schools to bring them up to code in order to just get by. That is the frugal and responsible thing to do for everyone, not just the school district but the city, its taxpayers, its retirees, and its renters. With all due respect to our community's educators and parents who want "state-of-the-art" schools, the community cannot afford them and the district is taking on a larger project than it will ever be able to handle. Mark my words: This is going to be a disaster. However, they are forging ahead anyway. This means that the only real battle that could be won is whether or not Kimball gets demolished (Conant is already going to be demolished even though it is structurally sound and much of it less than 80 years old). It is clear from looking at everything that Kimball should not be demolished (neither should the seven houses or Morrill either, but that's off the table too!). It is a historic building and a part of our city's character. It must be saved at all costs.

I urge all of you to communicate with board members via email or attend the hearing and speak. Due to previous work commitments, I will be unable to attend these meetings and this is a good thing, since I have had my name in the paper enough these days. But please, do get involved in the process and tell the school board to do the best thing for everyone.

Here are the school board member emails including current positions on the Kimball-Walker consolidation part of the plan, per previous reporting in the Monitor. (reportedly undecided) (does not support expanded school on Kimball footprint) (supports new school at Kimball) (reportedly undecided) (supports new school at Kimball) (reportedly undecided) (supports new school at Kimball) (originally supported renovation, now supports new school) (supports renovation of Kimball)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yes we get a new school, not a dump.