Opinion: Rebuilding at Rundlett is the best option
|Published: 11-26-2023 7:00 AM
Nicole Fox and Ian McGregor are both practicing civil engineers, residents of Concord, and parents of young children.
The Concord School Board (CSB) will be voting on the new middle school location the first week of December: either the current Rundlett Middle School (RMS) property or next to the Broken Ground Elementary School (BGS). As civil engineers and transportation experts, we believe the choice is clear: rebuilding at Rundlett is the better option.
The RMS site provides safer transportation options, reduces congestion, and decreases the amount of new infrastructure (water, sewer, and wider roads) the city will have to build and maintain in perpetuity. Existing streets and utilities at RMS already have the capacity to support a middle school.
We see many advantages to building at RMS. At the BGS site, there are already traffic backups onto S. Curtisville Road that extend past the next intersection. The preliminary traffic report from the district’s engineer states that cars are driving on the wrong side of the road and using exits as entrances during morning and afternoon release times for the existing schools at BGS. A new middle school near this site would only exacerbate these existing traffic hazards, with students coming from all over the city, and additional drop-off and pickup times prolonging the heavy neighborhood traffic.
In addition, the ability of students to walk or bike to school from home is higher and safer at the existing RMS than the BGS site. Streets in the south end of Concord have slower traffic and larger shoulders, allowing for safe biking. South Street also has sidewalks on both sides of the street, allowing for heavier pedestrian traffic. Currently, the school district’s walking radius is 1.5 miles for middle school. For the BGS site, students who live close to Loudon Road and walk to school would have to cross over I-393 on East Side Drive (State Rte 132). That overpass has narrow sidewalks with no buffer between the road and walking surface, and narrow shoulders that are unsafe for biking.
One of the reasons proposed for locating the school at BGS is to improve equity. While there are parts of the east side of Concord that are more economically disadvantaged, BGS is located in the highest-income census tract in the city. If the school could be located closer to Loudon Road, there could be a meaningful improvement to equity, but there does not appear to be an available site in that area. Claiming that equity will be improved simply by placing a school on the east side while making students, who now safely ride the bus, walk extended distances in unsafe conditions, is flawed.
For Concord to thrive economically, we should embrace the principles of Smart Growth Development. This approach to community development embraces re-development of existing property over clear-cutting forest for new development. Constructing a new school on the existing site, close to Concord High School, Memorial Field, Rollins Park, downtown Concord, where we already have the street and utility infrastructure in place, is the best thing for students’ quality of life and for the city.
Building at the BGS site would require new and upgraded utilities and wider roads that the city (taxpayers) would then have to maintain forever. These road and utility “improvements” would occur in a section of Concord primarily zoned for residential homes built on two-acre lots. Any new residential development taking advantage of this new infrastructure would be spread out and primarily serve single-family homeowners which would not address our acute need for affordable housing.
The CSB has said they want to hear from residents to help them make their decision. At every public forum in the last two years, residents have overwhelmingly favored keeping the new middle school where Rundlett has served our city for generations. The Concord School District has an unusual level of power within the state of New Hampshire because their decisions do not need approval either from city council or directly from the voters whose interests they have been elected to represent. They have this extraordinarily high level of trust because they have been responsible with this power in the past.
The CSB will make its decision at a meeting on December 6. Please share your opinion with your school board representatives, attend this meeting, and make your voices heard.