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WMRSD school board worries too much new space in proposed CTE addition


August 30, 2012
WHITEFIELD — Warrenstreet Architects of Concord, the firm designing the proposed Career & Technical Education (CTE) at WMRHS, presented drawings were described as the equivalent of "bubble diagrams" on Wednesday night, Aug. 22, in the cafeteria to the 16-member CTE Community Committee, chaired by David Atkinson of Lancaster and the WMRSD school board.

SAU #36 interim superintendent Dr. Harry Fensom, interim high school principal Mike Berry, CTE Director Lori Lane, and CTE teachers, plus interested citizens, including Rep. Bill Remick of Lancaster, as well as general contractor Dan Hebert of Colebrook of Daniel Hebert, Inc. (DHI), were also on hand.

The focus of the proposed renovation and building project —scheduled to go before voters for a "yes" or "no" vote on March 12, 2013 — is to support, enhance, and improve the CTE program, now primarily housed in a facility that was built 25 years ago in 1984-1985.

AT the end of the professional presentation, school board chairman Greg Odell of Dalton said that he liked what he had just seen but that school board members at their Monday night meeting on Aug. 20 had agreed that certain amenities, such as individual teacher offices, in-classroom bathrooms, and the JROTC dedicated drill area, should be eliminated to cut down on the overall cost.

School board member Peter Riviere of Lancaster said that the number of square feet of new construction should be reduced by a fifth and that not everybody teaching CTE classes should get a new space. Some CTE teaches should remain in their current rooms or be moved to a "repurposed" classroom.

The average taxpayer, such as himself, "can't work more hours to pay more taxes," Riviere said, and a compromise plan must be worked out.

School board member Rep. Herb Richardson, also of Lancaster, said that District taxpayers are stressed financially in today's economic downturn, and that he, because of a personal injury, is among those who have had to declare bankruptcy.

Superintendent Fensom pointed out that firmer cost figures would be available at the beginning of October, and he urged the board to keep the project on its current path and to let the refining process proceed. He also pointed out that the state Department of Education requires that its CTE Advisory Committees must approve program plans to ensure that the education offered is up to date, designed to provide greater employability for WMRHS and area students.

By meeting's end, first, the CTE Building Committee and then the school board voted to continue to move forward with the understanding that the architects would take seriously the comments of board members and citizens.

At the start of the meeting, Warrenstreet managing member Jonathan "Jon" Halle said that the project was "ahead of the curve" on meeting the timeline that will allow it to be ready for the March 2013 vote and to meet the schedule of the state Board of Education. CTE teacher meetings will be scheduled "to further refine space needs" and to consider activity "adjacencies" after Sept. 4, the first day of WMRHS classes. This will allow sufficient time to turn the plan — the "structural grid" — over to Dan Hebert Inc. of Colebrook so the civil engineering phase can begin in order to come up with solid cost estimates. Horizons Engineering of Littleton will do the civil engineering work. Application can also be made for the needed Alteration of Terrain (AOT) permit from the state Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), which typically is a three-month process.

Halle said the very early plan, brought out a few weeks ago, had called for 96,000 square feet of new construction, most on the north side of the north side of the existing building, with common and utility space making up 25 percent of it.

That earlier scheme, however, the architect said, has been whittled down by 16,000 square feet and now only 16 percent is devoted to common and utility space.

The revised plans — organized by Cluster — include approximately: Systems Technology — 6,000 sq. ft. for engineering technology, 11,800 sq. ft., mechanical technology, and 1,900 sq. ft., computer technology; Sustainable Agriculture — 6,500 sq. ft., animal science, 4,550 sq. ft., horticulture, and 4,700 sq. ft., natural resources & forestry; Hospitality-Culinary-Marketing — 6,500 sq. ft., culinary arts, 3,000 sq. ft., business & marketing, 1,025 sq. ft., accounting & hospitality management, Mt. View Academy, and 3,500 sq. ft., hospitality education center, including 55- by 55-foot space to accommodate up to 200 people; Future Teachers & Early Childhood Education — 2,200 sq. ft., family & consumer science (FCS)& Future Educators Academy; Government & Public Service — JROTC, 15,140 sq. ft., including 9,500 sq. ft. for dedicated drill area with bleachers and a 1,000 sq. ft. secure pellet rifle range; and also a 3,676 sq. ft. CTE Administration Suite.

George Brodeur of Twin Mountain, who has been hired by WMRSD to serve as its CTE project coordinator, has repeatedly explained that the current CTE facility is "in desperate need of an addition and-or renovation and upgrading." It is now at the top of the state's list of CTE projects and — pending voter approval next March — will be eligible for a cash outlay up to $13.5 million of state CTE-dedicated funds for the proposed CTE project only. The state would pay 75 percent of the CTE project with the remaining 25 percent — up to $4.5 million — raised through a District bond. Early construction estimates for the CTE project are in the $10.6 million range — more than $7 million under what was originally budgeted by the state Department of Education (NHDOE), Brodeur reported.

"The WMRHS facility is also in desperate need of renovations, especially with regard to current building code compliance, health and safety issues involving fire suppression (sprinklering), plus electrical upgrades and IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Education Act) modifications," he said. "Plans are underway to connect WMRHS to the Whitefield Municipal Water system so a sprinkler system can be installed in existing spaces as well as any new spaces.

A woodchip biomass plant is also being planned to reduce the District's dependence on costly oil.

To allow the school board to have the information available so as to be able to compare the cost of renting SAU office space, as it currently does, to the cost of building a new "no-rent" on-site space, Warrenstreet estimated that an additional 4,600 sq. ft. would be needed. "This is a due diligence exercise," Halle explained.

Warrenstreet also asked for feedback on increasing the number of parking spaces by 125 spaces. The town of Whitefield has no zoning regulations specifying how many spaces are required.

The state building aid program is up in the air. At the moment, Governor John Lynch has imposed a moratorium on providing School Building Aid until June 30, 2013, Brodeur said.

If school building aid becomes available, then 58 percent of the CTE bond would be reimbursed by the state.

"The WMRSD will be seeking the same funding advantage that the other 14 CTE and their respective school districts have enjoyed by seeking a waiver from the New Hampshire legislature," Brodeur explained.

In addition to complying with today's various codes and life safety regulations, costs will also be incurred if much-needed renovations and changes are made to the Spartans' athletic department, custodial department, cafeteria size, administrative offices, and energy efficiencies, such as a new insulating "skin" and window replacement.

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