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Manchester school spending priority list to be finalized

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 24. 2013 10:06PM

MANCHESTER — Spending more than $4 million to enclose classrooms at Webster and Beech Street schools tops the priority list of school administrators for next year’s capital improvement budget.

“It is about the learning experience,” school superintendent Debra Livingston said.

Some blocks of space can have 75 or 80 students and no walls to separate classrooms.

“You can hear everything that is going on from one classroom to the next,” Livingston said.

The school board’s Building and Sites Committee is expected to finalize the priority list at Tuesday’s meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the aldermanic chambers. It will ship its priority list to the full school board, which will later submit it to aldermen. Projects on the list get bonded over a number of years, and the yearly principle and interest is paid through the school’s operating budget, officials said.

Mayor Ted Gatsas, who chairs the school board, said it was too early to say how much of the list will get funded.

“It’s really not a function of how much do they get but a function of how much they can afford,” he said.

The classroom work is estimated to cost $3.45 million at Beech Street and $750,000 at Webster, the top two items on the proposed list.

Livingston said the project doesn’t involve merely building walls but making changes to electrical, lighting, heating and fire protection. Some teachers have fashioned make-shift walls out of furniture. Eliminating the open-concept classrooms, which was the rage decades ago, has appeared on the priority list for more than a half-dozen years for those two schools. Other schools, including Parker-Varney, have seen space converted back to classrooms.

Karen DeFrancis, the district’s business administrator, said it will be up to the aldermen to decide what projects to bond.

“It’s a list of projects that we would like to be funded,” she said. The 20 items on the list total nearly $20 million.

“We don’t expect all of that will be funded,” DeFrancis said.The most expensive project, at $5.4 million and ranked fourth, is a new pre-school facility, which would consolidate students spread among three schools, Livingston said.

Ranked third was site work at Gossler Park School and Middle School at Parkside to improve the traffic pattern to bolster student safety and to create athletic fields, she said.

“This would really help the community have another space,” she said.

The full school board also will meet today at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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