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Amid talks of Rundlett rebuild, district eyes state money for switch from steam

  • Construction where Concord High School will be producing its own heat and hot water before the next heating season. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Robert Williams, associate with HMFH Architects, talks about one of five site plan options for a new school to replace Rundlett Middle School in Concord during a meeting at Rundlett on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file



Monitor staff
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Just as Concord is weighing plans to rebuild the city’s middle school, the district is eyeing a $19 million pot of state money to recoup some of what was spent on the district’s rushed conversion to natural gas this year.

Officials said Wednesday that the district will apply for money through the state’s newly minted Public School Infrastructure Fund, a pot of money established by Gov. Chris Sununu using the state’s surplus to contribute to local projects focusing on internet connectivity, health, safety and security.

When Concord Steam announced last year that it would shut down over the summer, its customers, including the city’s school district, were suddenly left scrambling to switch to an alternative. The school board ultimately approved spending $9 million on a bond toward the conversion, which started in May and is near completion.

Some state lawmakers initially pitched a plan to give the district $2.5 million to help with the conversion, but the money wasn’t included in the state’s final budget.

“Our steam project is still ongoing; we will be submitting that seeing if we can ultimately get something,” school district Business Administrator Jack Dunn told school board members at a meeting Wednesday.

The money available from the infrastructure fund are a far cry from the amount of money the state once provided to local districts in school building aid. But with state revenues unexpectedly strong, the state Legislative Budget Assistant is anticipating about $19 million will be available for the fund next year – more than twice the $8.5 million originally projected.

Still, with a bottleneck of projects put on hold in hopes of restored building aid, Dunn said he expects stiff competition for the few dollars the state is making available.

“I think there will be a lot (of applications),” he said.

An eight-member commission will review the applications and decide which to recommend for approval to the governor, executive council, and joint legislative fiscal committee.

The district may also apply for a security grant under the infrastructure fund, although applications aren’t out yet, Dunn added.

Rundlett

School board members also had a wide-ranging conversation about proposals for a new middle school.

Architects with HMFH, a Massachusetts firm, presented the school board will five potential proposals last month to rebuild or renovate the city’s aging middle school, potentially in partnership with the Concord YMCA. On Wednesday, board members reviewed those plans and drilled down into the details.

School board members didn’t vote on the matter, but many suggested there was little appetite for a partial renovation of the school, the fifth option HMFH had presented. At an estimated $77 million, it was neither the cheapest nor most expensive option, but it had the longest build time – 4 years and 4 months – and the most impact to students during construction.

“I could only speak for myself, but I can’t see that the partial renovations – it’s too disruptive – there isn’t anything about that I think we’d vote for,” school board member Clint Cogswell said.

And with many school board members remarking that several of the options would be a little cramped on the parcel currently under consideration – the parcel on which Rundlett Middle currently sits – administrators noted that the district might think about building on another site.

Dunn told board members, for example, that a roughly 59-acre parcel behind Broken Ground School is owned by the district and could be an option.

Board members ultimately voted to allow the district’s administration to keep fleshing out the details. A request for a demographic study, which administrators want to commission in order to project enrollments before settling on a project, was deferred to the board’s finance committee.

“This is going to be a long and detailed process, but every journey begins with a step and I think we’ve taken some great steps,” school board member Jim Richards said as the meeting wrapped up.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)