Public shows support for existing Rundlett site ahead of school board vote Wednesday
Published: 12-05-2023 4:27 PM
Modified: 12-06-2023 5:49 PM
Ian McGregor has a few basic rules for his kids to reduce waste. When something breaks, you try to fix it. If something is stained, it can be washed. And only when something can’t be repaired do you seek to replace it.
The same can be true for city projects, like rebuilding the Rundlett Middle School. After years of public hearings over site location and renovation options, the school board has narrowed the choice down to a new facility at the existing site on South Street or a new school built on raw land off Portsmouth Street in East Concord.
At the final school board meeting before an anticipated vote on the school’s location, residents turned out heavily in favor of rebuilding at the current site.
Rebuilding at Rundlett makes use of the investments into infrastructure, like water, sewer and gas, that have already been made. By rebuilding the school there, the community would save by using these current systems and updating them as needed, said McGregor, who is a Concord engineer.
With the undeveloped land in East Concord, the district would need to pay for new infrastructure. Of note, are updates to a sewer pump and installing a booster pump station that comes with a hefty price tag.
“Let’s respect the things we own and reuse the infrastructure that we have instead of buying new things,” said McGregor.
Keeping the school on South Street also maintains the current layout of the city, with established bus and walking routes.
Brad Wolcott was raised in Concord and attended Rundlett as a student. When he thought about returning to the city as an adult with his family, he wanted his kids to be able to ride their bikes to school in a tight-knit neighborhood.
“The choice you are going to make in two nights could potentially reshape Concord in ways that are difficult to foresee if you choose to rebuild the middle school in a part of town that is not accessible for most of the student body,” said Wolcott.
Relocating the middle school to East Concord would jeopardize that, he said.
Rachelle Eaton made the same consideration when she moved to Concord four years ago. She decided to rent an apartment where her second-grader could walk to the Christa McAuliffe School. Now, she’s under contract to close on a house and her son will be able to ride his bike to Rundlett if it remains on South Street.
Compared to Actworth, where Eaton used to live, Concord provides a walkable community that she hopes won’t be upended by the upcoming school board vote.
While the district has estimated that both sites will cost $175 million, key infrastructure costs at the Broken Ground site could tip the balance sheet.
In cost analysis studies, the school district is set to pay for 10 percent of the cost of the sewer pump station. Currently, $100,000 is budgeted for this. However, Ward 5 City Councilor Stacey Brown said the price tag to the city is more like $26 million, far higher than what is currently outlined.
Installing a new booster pump station is not included in the city’s current budget for 2024. It’s another cost that isn’t factored into estimates for the project’s total, she said.
These expenditures could have been discussed between the city and school district through the joint committee between the two bodies. However, the last time this group convened was in June of 2022, Brown said.
With these figures not included in the final estimates, the cost of the Broken Ground site is likely to outpace the current location, said Rob Rayner, who is a resident of Ward 5 and is a retired civil and environmental engineer.
On the bright side, the estimates can’t be worse than the city’s numbers for a new Beaver Meadow Golf Course clubhouse, he said, drawing chuckles from the audience.
Traffic is also of concern for the Broken Ground site. Portsmouth Street would need more sidewalks to make it safe for students who live in East Concord to walk or bike to school said Daniel Keller, who is a Ward 10 resident.
Keller has a son who is a second-grader at Mill Brook Elementary. He walks to school, cutting through the woods by their neighborhood. East Side Drive is not safe for any student to walk along, said Keller.
“I do not think your plan for additional walkers to middle school is a safe plan,” he said.
Ahead of the vote, Betty Hoadley, who was a school board member for 15 years and taught for nearly three decades in Concord, left the current board with a warning.
When a clear majority comes from residents who elected the members of the school board to office, don’t be tone deaf, she said.
“There is an old saying about some school boards, not you of course, that they do what they want. I’m sure you’ve heard that expression,” she said. “And some do what they want. And guess what, they don’t get reelected. Don’t get that reputation.”
School board members are expected to vote on the final location at a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 6 in the Concord High School auditorium.