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Merrimack Valley to open talks on sale of Washington Street school

The Merrimack Valley School Board is considering selling its school on Washington Street, which could become the new location for the Penacook Community Center.

The board received voter approval last week to formally investigate an offer from the community center, which has outgrown its current space and in September made an offer to buy the building. The school at 26 Washington St. currently houses the district’s Learning Center and two charter schools.

Last week’s vote does not finalize a deal. There are steps that need to be taken before the building is sold, Superintendent Michael Martin said. Sides would need to agree to a price and the district would need to find new space for its programming. Public hearings would be held and any deal would need voter approval.

“This was more of a notification article. If we did enter some discussions, we wanted to make it clear to folks in the community that this would come back to them for approval,” said school board member Thomas Godfrey. Godfrey was chairman in September when the board received the community center’s offer.

While there was no dollar amount included in the offer, the building and land were assessed at $2.8 million in 2013, according to property records.

Those details – along with the future of the programs – will be discussed later.

The TEAMS and CSI charter schools operate separately from the district. “What would happen with the charter schools would be up to their board,” Godfrey said. “Any of the Merrimack Valley Learning Center operations are ours. We would have to figure out what to do.”

The building was Penacook High School until 1967, when the newly formed district built the existing school on Community Drive. Washington Street Elementary School occupied the building until the early 2000s, when the school district built a new elementary school. Maintaining the building costs $48,000 annually.

“Frankly, conversation on the future of the Washington Street school needed to start occurring, because at some point in time the district would have to make repairs and upgrades to keep the building in operation,” Martin said. The charter schools do pay rent and have completed some work in the building. “Here we had an opportunity to have a conversation and that was taken seriously,” he said.

The nonprofit community center occupies three buildings and offers child care, youth programming, adult fitness programs, professional development and senior programming. Relocating to the school would allow the center to have all of its programs in one building.

“I think the board considers the Penacook Community Center as an important component of our community and on many levels we want to see the community center thrive,” Martin said.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

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