School board votes down Penacook Community Center offer for school
The Penacook Community Center is still in search of a bigger home after the Merrimack Valley School Board voted down its offer to buy the Washington Street School.
The community center has shown interest in the school at 26 Washington St. as its programming has expanded, prompting a need for more space than it has at its current location on High Street. Two charter schools operate in the Washington Street School, which also houses the district’s alternative learning center.
The school board said the district could not afford to accept an offer that wouldn’t cover the cost of relocating the learning center, which would require about 9,000 square feet of office and classroom space.
Details of the offer were not released.
Yesterday, community center Executive Director Deb Cuddahy said the board had not relayed its message to her.
“This would be very disappointing for us. It’s perfect for us and it would help revitalize the Penacook village,” she said. If the deal has fallen through, the community center is prepared to review its options, she said. “We have irons in the fire. We’re looking for space, whether it be in the school or somewhere different.”
The center planned to repurpose the 43,000-square-foot building and put on an addition, she said. “It would be a wonderful collaboration and we would love to bring life to that building,” she said.
The center’s popularity has grown exponentially, with program participation growing from 3,200 people in 2005 to 10,000 people today, serving residents in Concord, Boscawen, Loudon, Webster, Salisbury and Canterbury. Three buildings on High Street comprise the center, which also rents space from the United Church of Penacook for its lunch programs.
During the day, children’s preschool, gardening and mentoring programs use the space. At night, senior programming, Zumba, fitness, CPR and parenting classes meet at the center. “We have a phenomenal impact on the community and there’s so much more we can do, but we need to have enough space,” Cuddahy said.
Yesterday afternoon, school board Chairman Mark Hutchinson said he would contact the school district this morning to find out why the community center hadn’t been contacted about the vote. In an interview earlier in the day, he said the community center is a wonderful asset for Penacook, but the district needed to be mindful of its own interests.
“We agreed to consider the community center’s interest in the property but the district has to look out for itself as well,” Hutchinson said. “We have programs in that space now that would need to be housed somewhere else should we devise to move that with a sale. We can’t ask our voters to assume costs beyond what they already have to.”
Discussion on the offer took place in two nonpublic sessions, one in May and one Monday. The vote came in public session, but Hutchinson declined to disclose the dollar amount of the offer. “I can’t really talk about the offer,” he said.
The building and land were assessed at $2.8 million in 2013, according to property records.
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.
Continued ownership of the building poses its own challenges, Hutchinson said.
“We will ultimately have to make significant improvements in that building,” Hutchinson said. By the end of 2015, the building’s sprinkler system will need to be brought up to code, an expensive proposition, Hutchinson said. “These are all part of the considerations as we determine how best to proceed,” he said.
At this year’s annual district meeting, voters approved a warrant article to let the district discuss selling the school to the community center, a possibility that at the time was billed as a win-win. “They are a valuable community asset and regional asset and they need space,” Hutchinson said.
The deal may not be dead forever. Voters at next year’s district meeting could direct the board to raise the difference between the sale price and the cost of moving the learning center. “That’s always a possibility,” Hutchinson said.
The TEAMS and CSI charter schools currently operate in the building, and Cuddahy said a plan from Penacook would have included keeping them as tenants. The CSI school has a rolling enrollment of about 50 students, said Executive Director James Gorman.
The school has spent all seven of its years at the Washington Street School, and if the building had been sold it likely wouldn’t have affected the school until 2015. “We are a well-established school serving older students and will do whatever it takes to secure residence in the capitol area so that we can continue to serve our current student body, as well as those who need us in the future,” Gorman said in an email.
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)