Concord School Board Zone C: Disagreement about future location of middle school
Published: 10-28-2023 4:31 PM
Modified: 10-30-2023 2:20 PM
After serving her first term on the Concord School Board, Brenda Hastings is seeking re-election and faces two challengers in Kassey Cameron and Peter Surmanis.
Cameron, who underscored her active involvement in the Mill Brook School PTA with two children in the city’s school system, said she wants to help students reach their full potential while maintaining fiscal responsibility.
“I believe in being conscious of the budget and looking for new, unique ways to help raise the funds that we need for the changes without overburdening the residents of Concord,” said Cameron.
Surmanis said he decided to run for the school board out of a desire to give back to the community that played a pivotal role in his son’s growth and development.
“Now that he’s done, I’d like to give back to the community and basically concentrate on helping the children of Concord from the start to the end,” he said. “I think that our school district can do better in serving the children. I don’t have all the answers, so what we need to do is listen to everyone involved.”
Hastings, who has a deep connection to the Concord school district as a former student and a teacher for 25 years, said she is approaching her second term with a better understanding of a school board member’s role and responsibilities.
“I know the system a little bit better now,” said Hastings. “I know how things work and what the priorities are. I think that I will be a valuable asset to the board.”
One looming decision will be the middle school project in the district. An initial cost estimate came in at $175 million, an amount that would strain the local tax rate. The district has yet to choose the site to build a new school but has narrowed the choices to the existing land next to Rundlett or raw acreage next to the Broken Ground and Mill Brook schools.
Cameron said the ideal site for the school would be near the Broken Ground School, a larger parcel.
She said the city is experiencing substantial residential development, with over 3,000 housing units in the pipeline, and the Broken Ground site will better serve the community in the long term. She suggested the district could sell off some of the unused land it owns to offset construction costs for taxpayers.
Hastings said her vote on the site location for the new middle school will depend on community feedback and the cost.
“We’re starting to see the bills that roll in of significant numbers of improvements that have to be made for the building to be safe for students and more money that we keep putting into that old building,” Hastings said. “It’s wasted money because we know the building isn’t functional. It’s not up code.”
Surmanis, however, took a similar view, appreciating the merits and drawbacks of both locations.
“Primarily, I think we need to think about what is most accessible for the students attending,” said Surmanis. “We need to bring in the public that information and get them more involved in actually helping to shape where the school is going to go, how it’s going to look, and how it’s going to serve the community.”
Another proposal to upgrade the facilities at Memorial Field drew some consensus from the candidates, who agreed that it is important to fix issues like drainage, but it should fall lower on the district’s list of priorities.
When Surmanis watched his son marching on the field in the band, he thought the facilities were not the greatest, but they were adequate.
“I think the budget should be lowered from Memorial Field,” said Surmanis. “We have to prioritize and we have to determine what actually will help the children the most and will give us the biggest bang for the buck”.
Cameron said the district should update the field to make it safe but stopped short of making it a state-of-the-art facility. Prioritizing the field over other extracurricular activities that lack proper facilities wouldn’t be fair, she said, adding that the city needs to think about prioritizing larger-ticket items like the middle school project.
With an eye toward spending, Cameron said she’d like the district to explore new opportunities to generate funds through grants and donations, taking inspiration from successful initiatives like the Friends of Merrimack River Greenway trail, which raised an impressive $300,000 through donations for the project’s second phase.
Hastings said the field is not the district’s No. 1 priority, but it clearly needs attention.
“Memorial Field is an embarrassment to the city right now,” said Hastings. “I’m really proud that the school district has partnered with the city to try to make this a place where we can welcome as a capital city for tournaments and teams and be proud of what we have to offer.”
Cameron and Surmanis attended a Concord Monitor forum for school board candidates but Hastings could not attend due to a scheduling conflict. A video of the forum can be seen online.
Editor’s note: This article has been changed to reflect Kassey Cameron is heavily involved in the Mill Brook School PTA.