Dunbarton plan for $2.2 million school upgrade headed to public hearing

  • Dunbarton Elementary School as seen last year. The Dunbarton school board will be asking voters for a $2.1 million facilities project that will expand the school’s classroom space and provide much-needed maintenance and upgrades. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Monday, February 05, 2018

Last year, the Dunbarton school board was unable to convince voters to support a one-time expense that would have kept the district’s full-day kindergarten running for another year.

This year, the board is asking the public to invest in not just its kindergarten program, but the entire Dunbarton Elementary School. The board is set to present a $2.2 million facilities project that includes three new classrooms and extensive structural improvements. The presentation is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the elementary school.

Although the price tag might startle voters who balked at the idea of spending $97,192 to send a few sixth-graders to Bow Memorial School a year early – allowing the full-day kindergarten program to continue for another year – school officials hope residents will take the long view on the project.

“It makes sense economically to do one big project now rather than parcel it out over a number of years,” said Jeff Trexler, a member of the board. “Right now, interest rates are low, but inflation rates in construction are high; if we wait, it’s just going to drive costs up more.”

“A lot of people think this project is just about all-day kindergarten,” Trexler added. “But it’s not; it’s a lot of small pieces.”

Those pieces include providing more small instructional space, fixing the school’s HVAC system, redesigning the front office area, repairing parts of the building’s exterior and upgrading the school’s security system, said SAU 67 Superintendent Dean Cascadden. The instructional space is key – currently, some members of the staff find themselves working in places that weren’t designed for instructional activities, like closets, he said. Programs like art and music are done on a moving cart and have no dedicated space.

But there’s no denying that the fate of the district’s full-day kindergarten is intertwined with the facility project’s success. The district had a full-day program for a year before having to revert to a half-day program last year, when a larger-than expected kindergarten and sixth-grade classes strained the elementary school’s 13 classrooms.

Keeping the full-day program would have meant having 22 kindergartners in one class. The district follows the state’s guidelines for kindergarten through second grade, which recommends no more than 25 students per class, but strives for no more than 20 students.

Should the facilities project pass, it would open the door for full-day kindergarten to return, which would mean hiring an additional teacher and an aide, Cascadden said.

Cascadden said the project would be bonded out over a 10-year period. To pay for the bond, the board plans to ask for between $230,000-$240,000 for the next 10 years, which would be put into a capital reserve fund. The board started asking for that money last year, a request was approved by voters. This method will mean the bond will not have an impact on the town’s tax rate, Cascadden said.

The cost of the project would be partially offset by money from the Dunbarton School Capital Reserve Fund established in 1991, which currently holds $452,871, according to the warrant article. Money could also come from the New Hampshire Homeland Security Grant, but the district won’t know if it’ll receive that money until March 12, two days after the Dunbarton school annual meeting.

The rest of the budget

Residents will also get the chance to weigh in on the rest of the district’s budget Wednesday night.

The operating budget is up by $378,000 for a total of $6.9 million, with increases in special education and tuition to Bow, where Dunbarton sends its middle and high school students. If all warrant articles passed, the town would be approving a total budget of $7.1 million, a 3.5 percent change over last year, according to school district documents.

The district is facing a $383,831 increase in revenues needed to be raised by taxes, according to district documents. Cascadden said the increase is mainly due to an increase in special education costs and Bow tuition increases, as well as a decrease in revenues, Cascadden said. This would translate to an increase in the tax rate of $1.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)