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N.H. schools to see $10m in safety, security improvements

State House Bureau
Sunday News Correspondent

January 21. 2018 12:07AM
Gov. Chris Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut make their pitch for approval from the Joint Fiscal Committee to disburse $10 million in one-time school building aid. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD - School buildings throughout the state will see more than $10 million in safety and security improvements soon, ranging from a $471,271 grant to Concord High School for "access control and security alerting" to a $180,000 grant to alleviate a bat infestation at a Merrimack elementary school.

It's all part of a $19 million investment in school building aid for 2018 made possible by a surplus from the 2017 state budget.

"Today is the culmination of an effort that began with my proposed budget, to give a boost to school building aid to rebuild our classroom infrastructure, especially schools with clear and imminent danger to the health and safety of students," Gov. Chris Sununu said Friday in an appeal to the joint House-Senate Fiscal Committee.

Appearing before the committee with Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and Homeland Security Director Perry Plummer, Sununu urged the committee to approve the expenditures, which he said would deal with issues that otherwise would be unaddressed, including asbestos and lead paint removal.

"Our goal is to make our schools the safest in the nation, something we can all agree on," he said. "If we can't put our kids on the school bus and know they are safe, nothing else matters. It really has to start there."

After a few questions, the committee unanimously approved disbursement of the funds, which already had been approved by the Legislature in the governor's two-year budget.

The 170 projects funded Friday were vetted by a School Infrastructure Safety Commission, which still has another $9 million to disburse.

"The applications keep flowing in," Sununu said. "Hopefully, we can close as many as 300 individual projects across the state."

The biggest grant in the current round is $577,452 for a project at the Mast Way Elementary School in Lee, described as "main office building expansion."

Fiscal Chairman Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, pressed Plummer as to whether building expansion qualifies as a safety or security issue.

Plummer explained that construction of a new vestibule is necessary at the school to create safety locks with two doors and proper security based on an assessment by Homeland Security and public safety personnel.

Three categories

Approved projects fall into three categories - imminent dangers and health risks, security enhancements and fiber-optic internet access.

Other large grants include $450,000 to re-roof the Milan Elementary School; $336,000 to the Franklin school district for safety improvements in the elementary, middle and high schools; $300,000 for a new sprinkler system at Alvirne High School in Hudson; and $400,000 to add sprinklers and a fire wall at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Keene.

Many grants are much smaller, such as $3,272 for bullet-proof reception glass at Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook.

A full list of projects can be viewed in the document below.

"Without this funding, there's no doubt the vast majority of these projects wouldn't go ahead, or if they did, would be solely on local taxpayer dollars," Sununu said.

A robust budget surplus in fiscal 2017, which ended on June 30, made the grant program possible.

The state was able to fill the Rainy Day Fund to its maximum $100 million, with money left over for the school building aid in addition to more than $30 million for one-time grants for local road and bridge projects.

The state grants, however appreciated, are no replacement for the annual school building aid the state once offered, though.

In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, the Legislature approved a moratorium on state funding for new school projects, leaving local districts to their own devices. That moratorium remains in place.

"These are one-time funds that will be spent on one-time projects," Sununu said.

Nashua projects

In Nashua, the school district received $83,525, which will be used for various projects at five city schools.

"The majority of the funds will be used for exterior cameras just to provide another level of security," Superintendent Jahmal Mosley said.

Security improvements will be made to the entrances at Fairgrounds Elementary and Charlotte Avenue Elementary and additional exterior security cameras will be installed at Amherst Street Elementary, Birch Hill Elementary, Charlotte Avenue Elementary, Fairgrounds Elementary and Nashua High School North.

"As soon as we get the funding we will certainly try to set a work schedule to make sure these funds are utilized immediately," said Mosley, thanking the governor and state officials for approving the funds.

Without the newly approved funding, Mosley said, the district simply doesn't have the cash in its budget to complete the projects all at once.

Instead, the work would have been prioritized and performed in increments.

Other school upgrades

In Hollis, the Hollis-Brookline Middle School was awarded $30,000 for security improvements - the second phase of its safety and security initiative.

"I think, obviously, our first task as educators is to ensure the safety and the well-being of our staff and students that come through the door every day," said Principal Bob Thompson. "For us, safety is paramount."

The funds will be used for video surveillance and window tints for shatterproof windows, Thompson said.

Two years ago, the school received a $20,000 grant to implement a controlled-access key-fob system.

"This new funding enables us to check off a whole punch-list of items we have been hoping to do for a while," he added.

Berlin High School and its school district are receiving $79,200 for surveillance upgrades and other security enhancements.

"This is quite a gift," Superintendent Corinne Cascadden said. "We have a lot of hardware that needs to be standardized. It will also be used to increase security in our office."

Overall, the funding will replace 98 cameras inside and outside Berlin schools, including panic buttons. It also will help switch the technology from analogue to digital throughout the four buildings.

In Goffstown and New Boston, several projects were approved, including $47,823 for improvements to Goffstown High School's digital video security system and $94,217 for other security upgrades.

"This money will go toward a number of very important security projects," said Superintendent Brian Balke, adding the district is grateful that the Legislature created the fund, which will help keep students and staff safe throughout the district and statewide.

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