In Allenstown, $32 million school taking shape

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor columnist

Published: 08-21-2023 5:53 PM

Outside the trailer, Jack Finley’s new domain remained a work in progress – 89,000 square feet of dust, beeping trucks and grinding, ear-splitting saws.

Inside the trailer, though, where the project manager and heavyweights from the Allenstown School District gathered, there was order and planning and a vision.

Large engineering designs covered long tables, showing how the Allenstown Community School – a hybrid of the outdated Allenstown Elementary and Armand Dupont Schools – is being pieced together.

The opening of the school for students in K-8 has been delayed until the spring, but that failed to dampen the spirits of the officials who met at what serves as the nerve center for the project.

Finley, the new superintendent, finds himself in a unique position. Hired last month, he replaces the beloved Peter Warburton, who died in April shortly after his retirement.

And Finley has had little time to adapt to what school Principal Shannon Kruger described as “not just a new chapter, but a whole new book” in the district.

He had nothing to do with the arduous planning stages and lobbying that were needed to finally put the two local schools out to pasture. He was the principal in Lebanon and Franklin and taught for 14 years.

These days, he’s playing catch-up.

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“I was able to get a tour and see the layout of the grounds,” Finley said. “It’s an amazing building and facility, and people are looking forward to moving into it.”

Ideally, the school would have opened next month, ready for the new year. Then officials and builders were told they’d have to wait for the vernal ponds in the area to dry up, allowing turtles and snakes and salamanders to remain in their natural habitat.

There was miscommunication somewhere, but Gordon Bristol, the project manager from Vermont, was careful not to point fingers.

“The only negative thing that occurred, and we try to be careful not to throw blame around, is we had trouble with the state of New Hampshire getting our wetlands permits and permits for vernal pools,” Bristol said. “So basically it was the environmental permits, where we thought we were going to have a hard start on May 22.”

Instead, construction began in August of last year, meaning four months of critical summertime weather was wasted. Now, the the transition – moving necessities from the two old schools into the new one – is scheduled to begin in March.

The doors, the plan says, will open in April, after spring break, bringing in kindergarten through 4th grade from Allenstown Elementary School and grades 5 through 8 from Armand Dupont School.

“I am a life-long resident here and I feel like we are truly making history here,” School Board President Jody Moore said. “This isn’t just a building; we are bringing this community together.”

The total cost is $32.4 million, and Bristol said, “We are on budget.”

A vote to combine the two schools into one failed by six votes nine years ago, delaying the process. This time around, with the state paying 60 percent and residents 40, infighting was held to a minimum.

The condition of the two schools in recent years fed into the momentum needed to improve learning conditions for students.

“The number one thing that has really come to light over the past two years is the number of repairs we have to do,” Kruger said. “It’s constant, ongoing, like a Whac-a-Mole cycle. We look forward to leaving that behind.”

There’s a lot of work left to do. Cables and wires hang from the unfinished ceilings and some of the walls need to be installed. Outside, Cranes with claws and dump truck engines add to the noise created by the beeping and sawing.

When finished, longer hallways will allow students and faculty to spot an intruder quicker. The ventilation will be better, the offices and classrooms bigger. Programs for the arts, robotics and science will be added.

“This provides for our students a state-of-the-art facility,” Kruger said, “which they have not experienced in the past.”

Meanwhile, Finley replaces Warburton, who died in April, shortly after retiring, and worked in education for 40 years. Those are tough shoes to fill.

“I know he had a longstanding legacy,” Finley said. “He was known for working with and supporting his students and his staff.”

That’s Finley’s role now. He takes over during a time of great change in the district.

“I knew the board had made preparations for a potential delay to the next school year,” Finley said. “I inherited it and I’m embracing it.”

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