Opinion: The future of Rundlett Middle School

By BETTY HOADLEY

Published: 09-22-2023 6:00 AM

Betty Hoadley taught for over 26 years in Concord, was a school board member for 15 years, and served as chairperson of the District Charter Commission in all of the four years it met.

The most controversial issue facing the school board today appears to be where the new Rundlett Middle School will be built. The two sites have been narrowed down to the present site on South Street and a location in the Broken Ground area in east Concord.

The attractiveness of the east Concord site all stems from the large tract of forested land available. This means there will be no demolition of an existing building. Board members seem to be excited that there would be plenty of room for the building, more than adequate parking for staff, curriculum and sports fields, and the nearness of natural land for science activities.

A first and quick look at the present location on South Street appears to show some drawbacks. The difficulty of building the new school while the present one would still be used calls for creativity and patience. This a smaller site with less land for staff parking, play fields, outside physical education space, and no surrounding forest and wooden areas.

This looks like a slam dunk, but hold on a minute. How would the students choose? Has anyone inquired? Would they prefer to be in modified exile at the Broken Ground site? Cast the challenges about South Street aside and look at what the current situation has to offer, things that would make a South Street professional staff able to offer a richer and more varied curriculum.

These are the years that the three classes, grades 6, 7, and 8, come together as a city-wide class. These are the years of transition from the elementary grades to the pre-adult processes and atmosphere of Concord High School.

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Is there opportunity and value to the west side location? Is there opportunity and value to being acquainted with the city library, city hall, the state house, and the historical society? Is there value in knowing where shops and restaurants are located? Is there value in knowing where the high school is? Is there constructive and educational value to using this closeness to the city center as part of the curriculum? Is it possible for more qualified eighth graders to take some classes at high school?

Determined folks can deal with the challenges of the South Street site if they really believe this is a better place for students rather than a convenient spot for adults. First of all, the district already owns land and a building at nearby White Farm. It is an under-used asset for the district’s historically popular and effective program, Project SEE. The determined ones can find tighter ways to lay out the play fields.

And close by fields may also be available. The projected need for 200 parking spaces is a number way too large. The idea of a three-story building is ready for a lot of scrutiny too. The walk zone is well established and works. The traffic patterns are well established as well. This all plays in favor of the present location.

We hear board members talk about growing enrollments and trying to guess if it will occur and where. Does it seem reasonable to present board members that a better gift to future board members would be an untouched east side site that could surely accommodate the challenges that might occur in the next 30 years? That could be the gift for the unknown future, a tract of building-less land that would have endless possibilities.

The entire role of public schools could change in a short time. Just imagine — schools might meet all year round. Parents might have their students enroll in remote learning for all or part of the school year. Some schools might offer differently scheduled days with volunteerism or internships for their older students. Those kinds of changes would surely impact all the facilities issues. And you can be sure the needs in 2053 will be substantially different than the challenges of 2023. Consider leaving the forested tract in the Broken Ground area untouched.

If taxpayers have opinions on this matter, they had better make them known, and soon. The final vote on the middle school site is scheduled for no later than December. Meetings are already scheduled for late September. Present board members are the ones who will make this critical decision.

Although two new board members will be elected in the November election, they will officially be seated in January. Attend public meetings, email board members or call board members. Let your opinions be known.

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