Concord School District plans to move forward with Rundlett project, building aid pending

  • Carisa Corrow of Educating for Good facilitated the event, which consisted of a visioning session with community members and a Q&A session with the superintendent. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Concord superintendent Kathleen Murphy speaks to a group of about 35 attendees at a forum about the future of the Rundlett Middle School building project on Nov. 16, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Concord School Board president Jim Richards speaks to a group of about 35 attendees at a forum about the future of the Rundlett Middle School building project on Nov. 16, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/17/2022 6:48:30 PM

The Concord School District plans to hire an architect, and will petition state legislators to increase building aid with the hope of keeping the Rundlett Middle School building project moving forward – they just haven’t decided where to build a new school.

A group of about 35 parents, community members and school employees gathered at the City Wide Community Center on the Heights Wednesday night for a discussion about the future of Concord’s middle school building project. The event was hosted by the Concord Greenspace Coalition and consisted of a visioning session facilitated by Carisa Corrow of Educating for Good, and a Q&A session about the building project with superintendent Kathleen Murphy.

Murphy was clear that the district is continuing to push forward with the building project by submitting requests for qualifications to find an architect, despite being ranked fourth on the priority list for state building aid this month. The state has just $49 million in building funds to allocate to school districts in this round and Concord, with an estimated project cost of $176 million, was seeking about $70 million in aid. If projects in Rochester, Colebrook and Monadnock get approved ahead of Concord, the likelihood of funding seems low.

“Certainly that was discouraging to us. Hours and hours were spent preparing an application that was incredibly comprehensive,” Murphy said Wednesday. “But we’re not stopping. The board has been very clear that we’re going to move forward. I can’t go out there and put a shovel in the ground, but we are moving forward.”

Murphy said state officials have told her if Concord gets no funding in this round, the district will be ranked first priority for funding in the next round, which will be in two years. But she believes the best course of action is to encourage New Hampshire state legislators to increase building aid through legislation, allowing more building aid to be appropriated than the maximum currently permitted.

“If you can do anything, call your legislators,” Murphy told meeting attendees. “I think the answer is putting pressure on the folks that control the dollars. What better way to use your money to take care of a school building for children?”

A location has still not been determined.

When the district was still considering a plot of land on Clinton Street owned by CenterPoint Church, the Concord Greenspace Coalition launched a movement called “Rebuild at Rundlett” advocating to build on the current site on South Street. But since the potential land deal with the church fell through, members have changed their message to just “Rebuild,” saying the new school should go wherever it best serves the community, with special consideration for underserved populations on the East side.

School Board president Jim Richards said the board has considered over a dozen different locations, most of which cannot be discussed publicly. In addition to the Clinton Street site and the South Street site, the Board has also considered building behind Broken Ground School, at Steeplegate Mall, on Monitor Drive and on Langdon Avenue.

Murphy said that if the school is built on the current Rundlett site it would be staged on land that is currently being used for athletic fields, meaning both Rundlett and Concord High athletes would be displaced. Students would be able to continue to learn in the current Rundlett building.

“We are concerned about all of the activity, the building, the construction, and all that happens on a site during the construction,” Murphy said. “So we know that that would be a challenge for us.”

In the visioning session, which was similar to sessions held by the District in 2017, attendees used sticky notes to share their priorities for the building project. Many attendees brought up equity in terms of choosing a location and incorporating diverse perspectives in the process, many were interested in a sustainable, net-zero building with sophisticated safety features. Many were concerned about the cost to taxpayers.

Concord resident Fisto Ndayishimiye said that he would like to see more Rundlett visioning input from Concord’s refugee community, where transportation challenges mean many families can’t access school facilities outside of a school bus or city bus.

“It’s important to know where to locate it, but it won’t make any difference if we haven’t really included all these communities,” Ndayishimiye said. “Thinking about what their problems are, transportation is the biggest issue when it comes to refugees and it’s been going on for a long time.”

Sarah Robinson, who was recently elected to be a school board member in District C, said it’s also important to incorporate the voices of families with elementary school-age children, since they will be the ones impacted by the project.

“It’s easy for me to get that 30,000-foot view of what does this mean for my property tax bill, or what does this mean for my friends who are teachers,” Robinson said. “But really it’s my kids who are going to be dealing with the repercussions, positive or negative, of any conversation that we have here.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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