Concord schools okay $12 million bond, study on future of Rundlett Middle School

  • The Concord Steam Corporation plant on Pleasant Street at night.

Monitor staff
Monday, December 05, 2016

The Concord School District will go ahead in issuing a $12 million bond – mostly to pay for the conversion of four schools from steam heat – and contracting with a Massachusetts-based designer to study the future of Rundlett Middle School.

That’s after the full school board confirmed two recommendations made by its subcommittees at a meeting Monday.

In the first vote, the board unanimously decided to begin the process of a financing a $9 million conversion of Concord High School, Rundlett Middle School, Christa McAuliffe School and Abbot-Downing School for natural gas heat after the city’s lone steam supplier, Concord Steam, announced its plan to go out of business next year. These schools, which serve 3,800 staff and students, will need new infrastructure to switch to heat sources.

The bond would also pay for three other projects costing $1 million apiece. They would address technology, upgrading 5-year-old iPads used by elementary school students and outfitting ninth- and 12th-graders with Chromebooks; transportation, replacing 13 outdated buses with new ones; and facilities, renovating or reconstructing a child care center out of a disused former city stable built in 1905.

In the second vote, the board unanimously decided to spend up to $150,000 in its current budget to consider what to do with the aging Rundlett Middle School.

The instructional and facilities committees interviewed two of five firms that applied to do the design work and decided on HMFH Architects, Inc., which is the Cambridge, Mass.-based outfit that designed Mill Brook School, Christa McAuliffe School and Abbot-Downing School.

Jim McCollum, the interim principal at the middle school, said HMFH’s presentation “far surpassed” the one made by the competing firm, the SLAM Collaborative.

“You have this history with them. It’s clearly positive,” he said. “It seemed like an easy decision.”

Matt Cashman, the director of facilities for the district, said the study “doesn’t assume anything” as to whether it’s best to renovate or add on or knock down the school and build anew.

“There’s no foregone conclusion here,” he said. “We need to take a look at all options.”

The study will begin with community input and may be completed as soon as four months later, Cashman said.

“They’ll meet with the community at large, they’ll meet with people from Rundlett, parents, school board members,” said board president Clint Cogswell, “and any issues you have – before they even start the process – you bring up and they will look at it.”

The board also confirmed that it will consider within its budget discussions implementing a full-day kindergarten program targeted specifically at its disadvantaged students. That’s to be considered as a “plan B,” in case full-day kindergarten for all students proves too expensive.

Unlike the other unanimous votes, the kindergarten decision had two dissenters in board members Nathan Fennessy and Jim Richards.

A public forum is set for 6 p.m. today at the high school to discuss the steam conversion project planned at Concord High School. Because the six boilers and two water heaters will have to be located in an addition, neighbors were invited in to hear about the impacts the project may have on the neighborhood.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)