At Concord middle school Q&A, questions about location remained dominant

East Side resident Liz Tardugno objects to the board's reasons for choosing to build the new school in her neighborhood.

East Side resident Liz Tardugno objects to the board's reasons for choosing to build the new school in her neighborhood. "I have friends downtown who bought property in the hopes that their children could walk to school, which now can't, and I now will have a school in my backyard which I don't want," she said. Another information session on the middle school project will be held next Tuesday at the Concord High School auditorium. Catherine McLaughlin—Monitor staff


Monitor staff

Published: 06-12-2024 5:11 PM

Modified: 06-12-2024 5:27 PM

If Concord School Board members wanted guidance as to where residents’ priorities lie beyond the location of the new middle school, they didn’t get it.

Instead, at the first of two question-and-answer sessions on the new design and cost estimate Tuesday night, residents continued to demand an answer to one persistent question: why won’t they rebuild at Rundlett?

With an updated design, architects and engineers gave the district a new cost range of between $136 million and $166 million for a new middle school last week. The board is scheduled to set a cost ceiling for the project, should it be built, on July 15. Between now and then, the board will have to make choices about what key elements — from the size of the gym and athletic fields to the energy infrastructure — of the final design should be. Which options are chosen will determine the cost ceiling it sets.

To gather input on the design, the first of two question and answer meetings was held Tuesday night. Residents had questions about traffic and infrastructure on the east side but largely continued to ask that the board explain, if not reverse, its December vote to locate the new school on South Curtisville Road. 

As the meeting came to a close, Board Member Liz Boucher pleaded with the crowd of roughly 60 attendees to also give input on the design questions — and budget ramifications — on the table. 

“I didn't make the vote on December 6. But we have made the decision as a board to move forward and now we need to focus on how to reduce that cost,” said Boucher, who was seated at the start of this year. “I would love to hear testimony on people’s opinions of: do we need auditorium? Do we need field space? This is what we really need help on. This is what I'm seeking for input to help me make my vote.”

What are the design options? 

Fields: The new school could feature a multi-use field, baseball and softball diamonds, competition track and outdoor basketball court. The costs for each of these options ranges from $1.6 million — for a track with a field inside — to $107,000 — for the basketball surface. The current school has multiple grass fields and is walking distance from Memorial Field.

The school currently fields six soccer teams, according to Rundlett principal Jay Richard. Track is also one of the most popular sorts. The school doesn’t have baseball or softball programs, but many participate in club teams.

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If there isn’t a surface — or aren’t enough surfaces — for their sport at the school, students could be bused to city parks and facilities in the area — an option carrying its own financial and environmental costs.

The field arrangement at the new school will also weigh on how many trees are cut down on the currently forested land — environmental concerns around clearing are a top concern among activists opposing the Broken Ground location. If all fields are included, architects have estimated the new school would mean clearing about 19 acres of trees. 

Auditorium: Compared to a gym-atorium, where a stage is added onto the gym space, a 900-seat auditorium would add $6 million to the project; a 600-seat would add $4.9 million and a 450-seat would add $4.2 million. 

Because the high school auditorium is not large enough, school concerts are held at the Capital Center downtown — meaning families must pay for a ticket to help cover costs. 

The board is weighing the benefits of having an inclusively large performance space at the middle school with a significant price tag on the facility. 

Energy: The new school could be heated by heat pumps with or without the support of a boiler and could include on-site solar panels. 

Ground source heat pumps, using warmth from underground, are roughly a million dollars more expensive to install but work more efficiently, meaning a lower energy bill. Air source heat pumps are less efficient and would need the support of a boiler system, which would carry its own maintenance costs. 

Solar panels on the roof or in an array carry a roughly $1.5 million price tag each but would reduce the carbon footprint and energy bills of the school. 

Options for gym and multipurpose room size, whether or not to include a greenhouse and other options are featured in estimate documents and a presentation linked to this story online. 

The lowest cost school presented — at $136 million — includes only one field, no solar panels or auditorium, a smaller gymnasium than currently exists at Rundlett and air-source heat pumps. 

The estimates do not include any improvements related to traffic, pedestrian access and infrastructure. 

Next steps

Which options the board decides on will determine where the cost ceiling it sets next month will land in the estimated price range. But, board members emphasized Tuesday, that they will not commit to building the project until they know the cost for taxpayers. They will find that out next July when the state passes its next biennial budget and sets the funding level for state school building aid. 

Concord qualifies for as much as $48.5 million in state support. But state officials have estimated that, best-case scenario, only roughly $30 million would be available. To accept building aid, projects have to have any local funding approved and a finalized design ready to go. 

Even with the district applying its entire $16 million facility reserve fund towards the new school, no building aid would mean the lowest cost option would add about $287 onto the tax bill of a $350,000 home in the first year, according to a district estimate — that’s on top of any other budget increases incurred by the district. The full $48.5 million state grant would reduce that bill to $32 on the same house. 

Despite continued pushback on the location, the board has continued to forge ahead.

Many who continue to oppose the location have said that, because the board took that vote in contrast to what the vast majority of public testimony favored, they do not feel their input matters.

“How do we know that you are going to take any of the input that we have given you to   heart?” North Curtisville Ro ad resident Laurie Rardin said. “Your trust building is remiss.”

Catherine McLaughlin can be contacted at