Rebuilding at Rundlett could be disruptive to student education

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 10-18-2023 3:14 PM

Sarah Robinson’s youngest child started kindergarten just as the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. That meant her child’s first few school years have been marked by constant disruption and uncertainty.

If the proposed new middle school is built at the current South Street location in Concord, students in the same age group will endure several more years of disruption while they go to classes at Rundlett Middle School right next to a construction zone. Outdoor space would be limited and site work will be distracting.

“We’re looking at an additional four, maybe five years of disrupted learning on site,” said Robinson, a Concord school board member. “The ultimate goal is making sure that our kids get the best education possible.”

While the final decision on the school’s location has not yet been reached, the architectural firm contracted by the school district presented an analysis of the pros and cons of each option during the school board’s work session on Tuesday. The existing Rundlett Middle School grounds on South Street is a relatively smaller 22-acre site. In contrast, the site on South Curtisville Road, adjacent to Broken Ground and Mill Brook schools, spans a more expansive 59 acres.

The South Street location is restricted by surrounding neighborhoods, raising concerns about the construction process and its impact on daily school operations. The new building will be positioned just 20 feet away from the existing school structure and 35 feet from the property line.

“The most impact is probably the site phases when they do a lot of clearing they are pounding the ground. That’s when you’re hearing, you’re feeling the impact on the ground and you’re hearing the loud noises. We’ll say 18 months of the schedule is the most impactful,” said Bobby Williams, associate principal of HMFH architectural firm.

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At either location, the construction of the middle school is anticipated to last for a 30-month period.  An earlier application from the Concord School District for state building aid estimated the cost of the school at $176 million, but final figures could change based on design and location.

Once the new middle school is constructed, the old building could take up to four months to demolish, which could cost another $3 million to $5 million.

If the new school is built on the South Curtisville Road parcel, the structure would occupy about eight acres of the expansive 59-acre site. The area is located beside conservation land but separate from it.

However, construction at that location would require cutting down trees, which led Robinson to suggest that the curriculum include teaching children about the plant species being removed and giving them a say in which species to replant.

Overall, the potential for more outdoor learning space at the South Curtisville Road location was seen as a positive aspect by board members.

“That was clearly one of the recommendations from the focus groups, that they have opportunities to explore their environment and have the outdoor environment be part of the learning,” said Superintendent Kathleen Murphy. “We’ve learned how important the developmental age of middle schoolers is and how outdoor education is important to them.”

The proposed construction site on South Curtisville Road is approximately 500 feet away from the Broken Ground and Mill Brook schools on the parcel. 

In evaluating the two potential school locations across categories such as education, safety, community, and sustainability, it was evident that both sites had nearly identical scores, with the location near Broken Ground edging ahead by a slim margin.

However, the crucial element that loomed large in the decision-making process was the uncertainty surrounding construction costs. Without a clear understanding of the financial implications, the school board felt it wouldn’t be fair or informed to make a definitive choice.

More community information sessions are planned before the board takes a final vote. More information is available at the school district’s middle school project page.