Church leader, YMCA officials say middle school proposal poses unique community opportunity

  • A Google Street View image from August 2019 of the Centerpoint Church athletic fields, which has been proposed as a location for a future middle school Google Maps

  • Proposed 38-acre site for a new Concord middle school on Clinton Street.

Monitor staff
Published: 3/26/2022 5:51:49 PM
Modified: 3/26/2022 5:50:52 PM

Plans for constructing a new Rundlett Middle School are gaining momentum this month and now include an agreement to partner with the YMCA at the new facility.

The district announced last week that it had entered into a letter of intent to purchase a 38-acre property located at 129-139 Clinton Street, which is currently owned by CenterPoint Church.

The viability and cost of the project still hinge on several key factors that have yet to fall in place, including a vote by the church congregation, a purchase and sale agreement, the decision to partner with the Granite YMCA, finalized architectural plans and an application for state building aid.

Matt Furr, lead pastor at CenterPoint Church, said his organization was willing to consider parting with the land because its members believe a partnership between the middle school and the Y could enrich the community, something that’s central to the church’s mission.

“When looking at this opportunity, particularly the partnership between the school and the YMCA that seems so creative and such an interesting venture, it seems good for our community,” Furr said. “That was certainly what helped us want to come to the table.”

The plan to build a new Rundlett Middle school has been in the works since 2016, when district officials decided that the existing building’s needs – repairs to the roof, floors and bathrooms, plumbing, HVAC system and fire alarm system – were extensive enough to consider building anew.

“The bottom line is they have a school that is not appropriate for middle school,” Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said. “It’s a building that has a form but has no function. It’s in very difficult shape, and the cost to renovate and to redo the whole thing is so close to the cost of a new building, the board decided to go with a new construction.”

District officials considered other locations, including the site of the current Rundlett building on South Street and a piece of property the district owns behind Broken Ground School. But this Clinton Street location is the most appealing so far due to its proximity to Memorial Field and Concord High and the fact that it’s already a tax-exempt property, according to business administrator Jack Dunn, who led the property search.

“I would go on the tax assessor lists and go through every property and I would weigh the pros and cons. And everything kept coming back to this property because of the fact that would not come off the tax rolls, it was easily accessible from major arteries,” Dunn said. “This one was checking most of the boxes.”

The CenterPoint Church congregation is currently having internal discussions about a final decision to sell the land, according to Furr, and plan to take a vote within the next couple of weeks. If the congregation votes in favor, CenterPoint Church plans to move forward with a purchase and sale agreement with the district.

The 38-acre site includes a 30-acre vacant lot and about 7 acres of athletic fields, which Concord Christian Academy and a few other organizations use for soccer, baseball and softball, according to Furr. It also contains a house that CenterPoint Church uses as transient housing for members of the community who need a temporary place to live. The Birch Street community gardens, which are located nearby, are not part of the property. Dunn suspects only about 24 to 27 acres of the site are buildable, due to wetlands and a wooded area in the back of the property.

The potential for partnership

The district has signed a non-binding letter of intent to explore a collaboration with the Granite YMCA that could involve side-by-side buildings with shared recreational facilities, including a swimming pool.

Michele Sheppard, interim president and CEO of the Granite YMCA, said the partnership makes sense for the Y because it’s a community-based organization, and she sees a window of opportunity where the Y can offer facilities and programming for the school, and the school district can offer the resources to make a new building possible.

“You connect that opportunity with a facility – that is yet to be determined and exactly how large it will be and what it will be,” Sheppard said. “We do look forward to the opportunities for shared spaces.”

Both Murphy and Sheppard said they’re interested in bringing Y programming to Rundlett, like health education, water safety, before and after-school programming and more.

While the district won’t have a building design for at least another nine to 12 months, school officials are taking inspiration from similar models elsewhere in the country. In 2017, Concord officials toured a shared school-YMCA in Lincoln, Neb. The facility’s blueprint shows joint buildings with one portion that is just the school’s, one that is just the Y’s and a section in the middle shared by both, with gymnasiums and a fitness area. Doors on both sides of the shared area have security locks that can seal off either the Y side or the school side and prevent movement between them. Murphy said that Concord’s building would involve separate entrances for students and Y patrons.

“The good thing is this has been done,” said Margaret Thomas, member of Concord YMCA’s Advisory Board. “It’s been done multiple times around the country. So it’s not like we’re starting from scratch.”

Sheppard said she doesn’t yet know if the Concord Y would maintain its downtown location if a new location was established on Clinton Street. Sheppard believes there’s a community need for Y resources downtown, but the North State Street building needs a “significant amount” of repairs and isn’t easily accessible to disabled patrons. She said the child development center next door to the Concord Y will not relocate.

“The likelihood of being able to sustain two facilities in the community has yet to be known,” Sheppard said. “But we hope we can do our very best in being present downtown. It may not be on that footprint. But we know there’s a need in the community.”

Looking forward

If a purchase and sale agreement is established, the district plans to hold a series of public hearings to get community feedback on the land purchase idea, and the future Rundlett building project. The Concord School District is fiscally autonomous and doesn’t need a ballot vote from citizens or a sign-off from city government officials to make a purchasing decision. Murphy said that makes it even more important for the School Board to pay attention to what citizens are saying about the project.

“Our next steps are to put together some forums and some Zoom meetings,” Murphy said. “We’re putting those together to begin the discussions around what this project looks like and what the potential could be. We know that communication is really important.”

So far, district officials have had some conversations with the city manager, business administrator and the mayor, according to Murphy, but if the plan moves forward, they will be meeting with the Planning Board and City Council.

If a purchase and sale agreement is reached, Dunn said the district will do traffic studies to analyze what may need to be done to make Clinton Street safer and reduce congestion at the start and end of school.

The district is interested in constructing a green building, according to Murphy, and has a sustainability subcommittee that’s looking into the feasibility of a “net zero” facility with solar or geothermal options.

Once a purchase agreement is reached, the district will need to move swiftly to submit an application to the state for school building aid by July 1. Facilities and planning director Matt Cashman estimates it will take two years to construct a new middle school building, not including the design phase of the project. Murphy said their hope is to have the building operational by 2025.

“The work has to be around community,” Murphy said. “I think we envision that school as being a community place, a place where kids and families can be enjoying the outside, enjoying the facilities, as well as the important work of teaching and learning.”

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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