Concord schools plan $12 million financing for steam conversion, technology, buses

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

Monitor staff
Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Concord School District is preparing to issue a $12 million bond to finance upgrades to facilities – chiefly the conversion of four schools from steam heat – as well as technology and buses.

At least three-quarters of the bond, which was recommended by a subcommittee Wednesday, would be spent to outfit Concord High School, Rundlett Middle School, Christa McAuliffe School and Abbot-Downing School for natural gas heat. They will require all new infrastructure, since the only steam supplier in the city, Concord Steam, plans to close in the spring.

The remainder of the bond, which will need to be approved by the full board Monday, is set for three other major expenses administrators consider top priorities.

One is technology upgrades costing $1 million. SAU 8 Business Administrator Jack Dunn said that would pay to upgrade 5-year-old iPads used by elementary school students and to outfit ninth- and 12th-graders with Chromebooks, making them the final two classes within the district to receive their own school-supplied devices. It would also afford updated infrastructure and increased storage capacity, he said.

Another targets $1 million in transportation improvements. That would buy 13 buses costing between $50,000 and $90,000 apiece, Dunn said, to replace older ones.

The district delayed bus purchases for years – replacing 1996 models as recently as three years ago – and would be able to catch up to and surpass its regular schedule with the bond, Dunn said.

The final $1 million would be used to renovate or build a new child care center to house a Concord Regional Technical Center preparatory program that currently operates at Abbot-Downing School.

District administrators are considering overhauling a disused 1905 former city stable at 125 Warren St. for the child care program.

The highest priority, however, is the expected $9 million to convert the four steam-heated schools on a tight deadline. Committee members said if, by some surprise, that project costs more than anticipated, the child care center would be delayed.

The 536,000-square-foot Concord High School, which will require an addition to house its six boilers and two water heaters, accounts $5.2 million of the cost.

The 186,000-square-foot middle school’s conversion is expected to cost about $1.3 million. Because the building is old – and expected to be either renovated or rebuilt – Dunn said he chose less expensive boilers with a 10-year life expectancy, as opposed to the 20-year span for the other buildings.

The two elementary schools, each about 70,000 square feet, were designed with the natural gas transition in mind. Their conversions will cost about $1.2 million apiece.

District administrators presented three alternatives Wednesday that would have called for a bond even larger than $12 million. The most expensive of the trio, at nearly $23 million, would have solved a host of issues with which the district expects to contend over the next decade.

While they understood there would be more to do in the future, the committee members said they wanted to stand by the $12 million figure.

“We weren’t asking to increase the $12 million,” said Clint Cogswell, the board president.

Superintendent Terri Forsten said the alternatives were created amid a review of the district’s long-term plans, but they didn’t include anything that was more pressing than the priorities contained within the original $12 million proposal.

“We didn’t see anything on this list (of alternatives) that we would say, ‘You know what, instead of this piece of the $12 million, we should put this up there,’ ” she said. “I think you’re right on track with us.”

The subcommittee members unanimously recommended that the full board approve the bond. The board will hold a public hearing on the bond at 7 p.m. on Monday.

Related to the addition for natural gas infrastructure at Concord High School, the district is holding a public forum designed for neighbors on Tuesday. It will begin at 6 p.m. in the high school’s cafeteria.

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