Friday, December 18, 2009

Taxpayers Association analyzes consolidation plan; offers alternatives

On Thursday night, members of the Concord Taxpayers Association and the general public met with school officials for about three hours to discuss the elementary school consolidation plan at the Draft in Concord.
Attending on behalf of the school system were Board member Jack Dunn (pictured at the left), Facilities Director Matt Cashman, Business Manager Michelle Croteau, and architect Pip Lewis of the firm hired to create estimates and schematic designs for the project.
The meeting was organized by both the CTA and school officials as another opportunity to get information out to the public.
The first part of the meeting was an extensive overview of the current state of the plan, including the state of the historic schools, enrollment numbers, financials, and schematic design. The second part of the meeting included a question and answer period, and the opportunity for members to offer alternative ideas to the proposal.
Dunn and Cashman presented the initial overview showing some of the problems with the historic schools. Croteau walked through the financing, noting that, depending on the scheme, there would in fact be spikes in the tax rate for between 13 and 20 years. The initial project costs are to be about $66.8 million although new estimates coming in earlier in the week put the project now at about $62 million. These figures are up from previous figures of about $57 million a few weeks ago. Croteau confirmed that about $2.6 million of stabilization funds as well as almost $30 million in state aid were being used to offset a debt load of about $99 million to $120 million. She also confirmed that the total cost of the project would be in the $130-plus-million to $150-plus-million range.
Many attendees questioned the figures and whether or not it was the best plan for the district to consider. One attendee asked why there was not more money put on the principle to lower the interest payments; another member likened the numbers to a car salesman trying to add on items to sweeten the deal. Another attendee questioned how the figures could go up so much in such a short period of time. Lewis stated that the architects had been trying to make the project as affordable as possible in order to not burden the taxpayers. Another attendee peppered questions about green design and why Concord's schools that were built in the 1970s were not holding up well compared to the historic schools which were structurally sound, even after 80 to 100 years. She also asked whether or not items from China, which often have lead and other hazardous materials, would be included in the new schools.

Towards the end of the meeting, I presented two rough schematic drawings using city maps and primitive scribbles via Adobe Acrobat which showed two potential alternative sites for a new Kimball School:

The first scheme is an area of about 18 acres across the street from the Bishop Brady High School playing fields, just off the corner of Columbus Avenue and Penacook Street. The area has a very small slope and more than enough room to build a proper elementary school, and potentially a new middle school, if needed. Of course, the plan doesn't take into account that part of this section of town is deem to be a stretch of the northern part of the Northwest Bypass. Although, city officials readily admit that the possibility of actually getting this road constructed is slim to none.
This scheme does require a bit of infrastructure by the city, including new sidewalks and more children would be bused to this location than probably bused to the current Kimball footprint.

The second proposed alternative location, at the corner of Rumford and Penacook street, is more of a walk-to, neighborhood school. Placed right in the heart of Concord's North End, this location is a mere four blocks from the current Walker School. It offers more entry locations to the grounds of the school, as shown by squiggly red lines, signifying potential driveways that could either be shared with Lincoln Financial or separate from that company's employee entrances. The level of the land allows for multiple entry points to a potential two-story school, even allowing the school to be set along a street corner, as shown by the red lines.

Both schematics are not laid out in the pictures to spec. The actual footprint will be slightly different than the primitive designs I put together. But the larger points, which I stated at the meeting, are two-fold:

First, the key point to finding an alternative location for a new Kimball-Walker School is the ability for the district to sell off Kimball and the seven houses the district owns on the Kimball footprint to offset some of the debt of a new school.
Currently, Kimball is assessed at more than $3.5 million. The seven houses were purchased at more than $2 million, granted, at the height of the market. Combined with the value of Walker, at another $3 million and change, about $9 million of potential asset revenue would be available. Some of this money, possibly as much as $2 million, would be needed for alternative site land acquisition and site development. But that would leave an additional $7 million (or more, depending on the sale of the assets) to be used to lower the debt.
In the end, despite press reports describing this scheme as more expensive, finding a new location for a combined Kimball-Walker School is less expensive than renovating or building a new school on the Kimball footprint.
And second, that instead of planning to a predetermined outcome, from Day 1, school officials could have taken some time to think outside of the box to do what is best and right for everyone, and not just what was easiest. Because this hasn't been done, the school board is about to approve a plan that has major flaws, is not the best location for the schools, and will knock down a beloved historic building in the community.

At the end of the meeting, I presented some other alternative locations, including numerous lots owned by St. Paul's School on Fisk Road, the Miskoe Farm on Little Pond Road, and the Liberty Street area near Grappone Park, about two blocks from Jennings Drive, that could at least get a cursory look as potential sites.
Cashman said that some of the sites had been looked at by district officials but not all of them.

Sidebar: A representative from the Miskoe family communicated with me this week and stated they were not interested in selling their property to the school district. It was also noted that the upper end of Little Pond does not have water and sewer. I regret any misconceptions that my writing was suggesting that the Miskoe's property be taken from them for a new school. I was just trying to suggest that other locations could be looked at.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for working on having us come speak to the group of Concord Tax Payers. You held a very respectful meeting and I appreciate the couretesy extended by everyone in the room. It really was a fair and engaging process.
Matt Cashman

Anonymous said...

An alternative is usually a good site. I will be the first to say that i do not like that they decided to build on the old Kimball spot, I would like a new campus, one with lots of green space, but the people from Task Force 1 and 2 wanted it back there, if the school board was not listening they could build it elsewhere.
I wouldn't want it across from Bishop Brady it would be a traffic nightmare. I also like the idea of the school board taking land by emident domain, yes, that will make the public like the school board so much.
I hate to be the one that can tell you this, but if you want to control the schools run, you have to sign up.

Anonymous said...

Re: the last Anon. posting: you have to be ON the school board to have any effect??

There's 43,000 people in this town and the 9 elites on the school board have wasaayyyy too much power. They decide; we pay and our kids suffer the consequences.