Proposed Option Would Allow ‘Rebirth’ of Golden Brook School

May 8, 2015


by Barbara O’Brien

Virtually no one disputes that Windham schools are overcrowded and that lack of space has affected educational programs.  What to do about the situation has been the hang-up, however, for several years already.

In two consecutive years, voters overwhelmingly voted down adding a fifth school to the district; a seventh- and eighth-grade facility that would have been located on land off London Bridge Road.  In 2014, no proposal was put forth for voter consideration.  And, most recently, this past March, the majority of voters turned down what was labeled “Option 2.”  This particular choice would have included an addition and major renovations to Golden Brook, plus renovations to Windham Middle School.  Option 2 was not put forth by the Windham School Board, however.  It went to voters through a citizen-petitioned warrant article; one that did not carry the endorsement of the entire school board.

Shortly after the election this past March, members of the Citizen Facilities Committee resumed their meetings, subsequently revising Option 2.  They presented their latest proposal to the full school board during its meeting on April 21.  The goal of the Citizen Facilities Committee is to address capital issues and to present the school board with an option that would reduce overcrowding.  Horrigan said committee members solicited an extensive amount of public input before finalizing Option 2+.

Rick Horrigan, chairman of the Citizen Facilities Committee said he likes to think of the newest proposal as “Option 2+.”  The latest concept includes an additional 8,000 square feet over the proposal presented on Election Day.  The cost of the proposal has also gone up, rising from a maximum of $15 million to $17,269,028.  Of that amount, the vast majority would be for Golden Brook ($16,277,302), with the remainder slated for renovations to Windham Middle School.  Horrigan said plans are to acquire the Guaranteed Maximum Price by this coming fall.

Horrigan explained that Option 2+ does solve current space constraints, as well as allow room for future growth.  “It’s the most cost-effective option,” Horrigan said; noting that this option would allow the return of several programs that have been eliminated due to lack of space.  Option 2+ would also allow the students currently housed at Windham High School (preschool and four third-grade classes) to return to their intended location at Golden Brook.  Option 2+ would also allow Windham Middle School to become a “real” middle school facility, by the addition of science labs, an industrial arts program, and a family and consumer science program.  Currently, Windham Middle School is designated by the New Hampshire Department of Education as an “upper elementary school.”  The project also includes minor renovations to Center School in the neighborhood of $40,000.

“Our current facilities cannot properly accommodate the current student population,” Horrigan said.  Presently, there are approximately 2,800 students enrolled in the school district.  “We are missing classroom space that would be equivalent to two grades,” he said.  “Educational programs have already been eliminated,” Horrigan continued.  “There is no unused space,” at Golden Brook, Center School or Windham Middle School, he added.  “And the core areas in these three schools are undersized and outdated.”  The construction would be done in a phased approach, so as to have as little negative impact on students, as possible.

In response to a question about annual estimated operating costs for the construction project, Horrigan said it would total about $1,110,219.  The estimated cost includes 17 additional staff members.

Superintendent Winfried Feneberg emphasized that an addition to Golden Brook would need to be built “in a very smart way.”  As the plan calls for Golden Brook to house students from preschool through fourth grade, with approximately 20 students per classroom, it would be necessary to separate the youngest students from the older ones.  “It’s a question of traffic flow,” Feneberg said.  “Core spaces must be accessible from all portions of Golden Brook,” he said.

During the public input session of the meeting, resident Heather Petro said she was disappointed that no other option was being presented.  There is a contingency of residents who are still pushing for the construction of a brand-new school.  “We need to remain open-minded,” Petro said.  “I support educational improvements 100 percent, but feel there are still questions to be answered,” she said.  Petro also reminded residents that the final decision rests with each and every voter and that not participating in that decision would be a poor choice.  Resident Joe Miller asked school board members to be “flexible moving forward.”

Resident Kelly McAllister said she doesn’t particularly support such a large elementary school (preschool through fourth-grade), especially for the youngest children.  McAllister also urged implementing a full-day kindergarten in Windham.  “It’s the best educational practice,” she said.

Resident Allison Miller said that her major concern is that Option 2+ is just “another Band-Aid.”  “I would like to see another school built,” Miller said then admitted she doesn’t see that happening.

Retired school board member Beth Valentine said she recently went on a tour of Golden Brook and Windham Middle School.  “It was eye-opening,” Valentine said.  “I was shocked by what I saw.”  While Valentine said she was “encouraged by the proposal” of Option 2+, she also urged school administrators to “implement the best educational practices.”  “Is it appropriate for teachers to be on a cart?”  Valentine asked, referring to those courses that float from room to room and carry supplies with them on a cart, such as art and music.  Although the proposed option does include classrooms for these subjects, Valentine said she’s concerned that they might be cut if the overall construction price comes in higher than currently anticipated.

Committee members said there is no intention to cut these spaces from the proposal.  “Having teachers on a cart is an unacceptable practice,” school board member Rob Breton replied.  “I don’t want to see it continue.”  Feneberg agreed that Option 2+ solves the problem of having teachers wheeling carts around the building.  “It goes to the quality of education being offered,” Feneberg said.  “Teaching from a cart can be done, but it’s not inspiring.”

After additional discussion, shortly after midnight, school board members voted unanimously (5 to 0) to accept the recommendation of the Citizen Facilities Committee to move forward with Option 2+ and proceed with formulating Requests for Proposals.  “The Citizen Facilities Committee did exactly what we asked them to do,” Breton said.  “I look at this proposal as a rebirth for an old school.”

Business Administrator Adam Steel said that, as of July 1; the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, the $100,000 approved by voters will become available.  This money is slated for architectural and engineering studies.  This money will not get the proposal to finalizing the Guaranteed Maximum Price, however, Steel said.  That number will be determined after all bids have been accepted.  “If the architect says this can’t be done for this price, we’ll need to be flexible and look at other options,” Feneberg said.

Citizen Facilities Committee member Rich Amari reminded everyone that, this past year, the committee had absolutely no money with which to work.  “I’m very excited that we’re finally getting to an architect,” Amari said.  “Our kids deserve better than they’re getting.”  In response to resident Allison Miller’s comment, Amari said, “What we are proposing is NOT a Band-Aid fix, just for today.”  “If done well, it will solve the problem long-term,” Superintendent Feneberg agreed.

“It’s the right thing to do,” committee member Jerry Rufo said, commenting that he fully expects the proposal to be on next March’s school district ballot.

School District Moderator Betty Dunn emphasized the importance of putting a proposal on the ballot that the majority of voters can support.  “We need something that will really solve the problem,” Dunn stated.  Dunn also encouraged school board members to set a timetable for the proposal and also to examine why the question failed to garner sufficient support this past March.

“It’s the job of the school board to put forth the best option possible, one that 60 percent of voters can support,” school board member Daniel Popovici-Muller said.  Being a bond issue, the proposed construction project would need to tally up 60 percent of the vote in order to pass.

“We really need to have the voters buy into whatever proposal is put forth,” Chairman Ken Eyring said.

“We’re looking to do the best thing for our kids,” Popovici-Muller added.  “We will maintain flexibility to make sure that is accomplished.”