School Board Narrows Down Proposed Addition to Two Options

October 16, 2015

 

by Barbara O’Brien

Moving forward with plans to present a proposed addition to Golden Brook School and renovations to Windham Middle School, school board members recently narrowed the concept down to two options.  Late this past summer, Banwell Architects, of Lebanon, N.H., and Quechee, Vt., was hired to draw up plans for the project.

When Banwell met with school officials on Oct. 6, the firm presented five options for consideration; all of which included the needs identified by school administrators, but each arranged in different configurations.  One of the choices was a three-story structure, which was quickly ruled out.  The other options involved adding a second floor to the existing Golden Brook School; a structure that was built circa 1960 and includes partitions, rather than solid walls, and the then popular “pod” concept.

It is anticipated that any proposed project will be done in phased construction over a multi-year period.  All concepts would also include expanded parking (approximately 100 additional spaces) and separate student drop-offs and pick-ups for private vehicles and for school buses.  The latest proposals also include a 7,000-square-foot gymnasium (an increase from 6,000 square feet) and two additional “flex” classrooms to allow for the possibility of future increased enrollment.  There are no anticipated changes to the kindergarten wing of Golden Brook, a facility that was just built a couple of years ago.

After significant discussion, school board members narrowed the options down to two choices (C and D) and asked that they both be priced out in time for the next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20.  “Cost is going to be a factor,” Chairman Ken Eyring said, adding that the total price tag needs to be taken into consideration.  “We need to find a balance,” Eyring said of the cost.  “An addition has already been voted down several times in the past.”  Architect Ingrid Nichols said, “New multi-story construction is less costly then single-story new construction.”  As for the existing pods at Golden Brook, “They just aren’t worth saving,” Nichols said.

“The bottom line is that we’re all going to lose if this project gets voted down,” Eyring said.  “We need to generate an accurate price,” he added.  “Time is of the essence.”  Eyring also commented on other large issues facing the school district, including a new teacher contract, a $700,000 addition to the capital reserve fund for the district’s ongoing maintenance program and a likely track proposal at Windham High School.

During the public input session of the meeting, several residents expressed concern about the possibility of not building an addition large enough to accommodate future growth.  New Hampshire has a history of building too small, one resident commented.  John Delorean of Eckman Construction, tasked with pricing out the options, said he doesn’t believe that’s the case with Windham’s proposed addition.  “The design team has been working on that aspect,” Delorean said.

“We want to build flexibility into the addition, but not create a lot of empty space,” Nichols added.

“There’s going to be a threshold, that if we cross, we’re going to get nothing,” Eyring continued.  “The lack of space is an enormous problem in Windham,” he said.  “It needs to be solved.”  In determining what residents can and cannot afford, “We need to consider every segment of the population,” he said.  “Windham is filled with very smart people.  Given accurate information, they will make the right decision.”

Former school board member Mark Brockmeier responded to Eyring’s comment about there being “a threshold” on what residents are willing or able to expend for school construction.  “What is the magic number?  What is the cap?”  Brockmeier asked.  “I wish I knew what that number is,” school board member Daniel Popovici-Muller responded.  “The one thing we’re known for in Windham is our excellence in education,” Brockmeier said.  “If test scores drop, property values will drop.”  “We need schools of possibility; not schools of limitation,” he continued.  “We are in a period of relative economic recovery and we need to engage the entire community” in getting behind this project, Brockmeier said.

“It’s amazing how excited the teachers are at just the thought of getting extra space to educate our students,” resident and school facilities committee member Rick Amari added.

Resident Heather Petro expressed concern, however, about doubling the student population at Golden Brook School.  The proposal would create the largest lower elementary school in New Hampshire, Petro said.  “We need to consider the cost benefit rather than just dwell on cost-effectiveness,” she said.  Rather than just express concern about the affect of the proposed construction on senior citizens, Petro urged school board members to reach out to parents.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of work done, already, on this proposal,” Vice-Chairman Tom Murray said.  “It was not done in a vacuum.”  “What we want and what we need are two different things,” he said.  “There has to be some practicality.”

Interim Superintendent Tina McCoy commented, “Educating the public is a big part of this proposal.  We need to get the word out.  People are very busy and we need to reach out as much as we can.”  McCoy noted the serious overcrowding that exists across all four Windham schools.  “I can barely find the words to describe the overcrowding at the middle school and Windham Center School,” she said.  “This project will resolve those issues,” she stated, adding that those working on the proposal had done an excellent job of differentiating the wants from the needs.  “Clearly, this is what we need.  It’s a good option.  What we’re asking for is what we really need!”

Murray also spoke about the deplorable conditions at the Middle School and Center School, noting the practice of programs being forced to service students “on a cart,” rather than in a permanent classroom, as well as certain special education programs being relegated to hallways.  “It’s embarrassing,” Murray said, urging residents to take a look for themselves.  “At the end of the day, it comes down to the needs of the students.”

School board member Rob Breton agreed with Murray.  “We need to get people to really see how bad things are.”  “We’re ‘dead in the water’ if the proposal doesn’t pass next spring,” he said “Voters need to show up and see why we need this project,” Breton said.  “It’s unacceptable,” he said.  “Too many people still don’t get it!”

School board member Dennis Senibaldi said he was in favor of including a full-size gym and a full-size kitchen at Golden Brook, noting that these two aspects should be included in the proposal and not presented as separate warrant articles.  Senibaldi said he doesn’t want to see programs offered piecemeal.

Popovici-Muller said the final proposal taken to voters needs to balance the costs versus the benefits.  “We need to build in flexibility that will allow us to be comfortable for quite a few years,” he said.  “It’s the school board’s job to give residents what they need, within reason,” Popovici-Muller said.  “We need to come up with a solution we can all live with.”

“For crying out loud, make arrangements to see the conditions at these schools for yourself,” Popovici-Muller pleaded.  “It is critical that this project gets done.  We have a duty to fix it!”