Opinion: Outstanding issues at the Broken Ground site

Site plan on raw land next to the Broken Ground and Mill Brook schools in Concord.

Site plan on raw land next to the Broken Ground and Mill Brook schools in Concord. Monitor file


Published: 06-14-2024 2:46 PM

Bert Cooper lives in Concord.

Concord citizens are rightfully upset with the proposal to relocate the middle school to Broken Ground. After years of school board plans showing a new building at the Rundlett site, after years of board delay pursuing a financially risky YMCA collaboration, after years and money spent pursuing new land on Clinton Street, the board finally applied in June 2022 for state building aid listing Clinton Street or Rundlett as the two possible locations for the proposed rebuilt middle school.

When the CenterPoint Church wisely decided against the $3.5 million Clinton Street sale to the board, Rundlett was left as the sole location on the state building aid application. That application requires location as part of the application (location is not listed as waivable on the application) (See Ed 321.28). Why offer to buy Clinton Street unless Broken Ground, owned by the district, was unacceptable? We were told that Broken Ground was “unacceptable” compared to Rundlett or Clinton Street.

Notwithstanding the public objection to moving Rundlett to Clinton Street, the board then purported to invite public comment in fall 2023 about a “choice” between Rundlett and Broken Ground but presented a slanted “comparison” prepared by the architects and simply ignored strong public opposition. We should be concerned that, after eliminating Broken Ground as an acceptable site in the board’s public presentations, it didn’t bother to do the traffic studies for Broken Ground recommended by its own traffic engineers (VHB), and it didn’t update its student population studies to reflect a significantly greater decline in actual school attendance (especially on the East Side) versus projected by its student population consultant (Davis, who noted the study is dependent on actual school location, i.e., Rundlett).

The board was provided no actual data about how many students lived within walking distance of each proposed site. Instead, in mid-2022, architects who are compensated more for a larger building just “grossed up” the then-incorrect overestimates of student population by increasing the number of students for known, planned housing projects under construction, without adjusting downward the Davis estimates based upon actual attendance data. Is this erroneous projection the “statistically justified” estimate required by law?

The board told the public that they would “only” be destroying eight acres of forest instead of the actual 16-20 acres shown by their own plans. The board ignored public comments by members of the New American community recommending that the middle school remain at Rundlett. Some board members suggested that public opposition came from a small group of rich people on the West Side, which is belied by the number of signs and signatures against the move from residents on the East Side, and an online petition with over eight hundred signatures from Concord residents.

It also summarily dismissed the cost of extra buses caused by moving the school out of a higher density, walkable area, creating an extra cost of at least $100,000 per year for the next fifty years, or $200,000 per year for electric buses. That is not covered by state aid. The board saw no benefit in middle schoolers being able to walk to the high school or Memorial Field. We are supposed to ignore the cost to Concord taxpayers of necessary infrastructure improvements at Broken Ground, which are prerequisites for the school construction.

Most troubling is the complete disregard of the environmental impact of such a move. Perhaps if board members owned no television, computer, smartphone, or newspaper, they could ignore the climate emergency. They could ignore the fact that last year was the hottest year on record (since 1853), with the remainder of the top ten hottest years on record all occurring during the past ten years. Their own Sustainability Committee references the state’s NH Climate Action Plan, which says not to cut down more New Hampshire forests.

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Many in New Hampshire who cherish winter sports and dislike the idea of people dying from heat exhaustion know that our future depends upon many “small” actions, such as not chopping down twenty acres of carbon-sequestering trees, and not increasing car and bus trips to the middle school for the next 50 years. This is without even considering the loss of hiking trails, emotional damage to young East Side students who will watch “their” forest being chopped down during a climate crisis, and the permanent loss of significant, irreplaceable, unfragmented, natural habitat.

We ask readers to consider signing a petition to appeal the proposal to relocate the middle school from Rundlett to Broken Ground.