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December 10. 2013 7:39PM

Manchester board holds off seeking $22m for building projects

MANCHESTER — The school board has delayed sending its list of high-priority school building projects to the aldermen, after Mayor Ted Gatsas expressed concerns about its cost and scope.

The board's Building and Sites Committee recently finalized its Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), a list of 22 projects that total $22.2 million.

"It's easy enough to send a list over; it's another thing to send over a way to pay for it," Gatsas said on Tuesday.

Referring to Superintendent Debra Livingston, Gatsas added, "She's just started the preliminary rounds of the budget."

At the top of the school CIP list is enclosing classrooms with partial walls at Beech Street and Webster elementary schools, which is estimated to cost $3.4 million and $750,000 respectively. Third on the list is site rehabilitation at the campus of Gossler Park elementary and Parkside middle school.

At Monday's school board meeting, Gatsas agreed that sealing up the "open concept" classrooms, which have been criticized as distracting and unsafe, was important. But he said it made more sense for the board to prioritize items the aldermen might actually be able to fund.

Ward 10 school board member John Avard, the chair of the building committee, said the list had already been minimized.

"The list would be several pages deep if we sent over everything. This is a prioritized list," Avard said. "Some of these items have been on the list for many years. We don't expect everything to be done as a bonded project ... and the list has gone down quite a bit (over the years). This is more for the aldermen to see where we're at and where our priorities are."

Gatsas noted that closing up the classrooms would reduce capacity at Beech, creating another issue.

Ward 9 board member Art Beaudry, who is also on the building committee, said the project would also entail creating classrooms in the basement and eliminating the portables at the school. "That's part of the cost," he said.

At $3.4 million, the Beech Street project is the second most expensive item on the CIP list. The largest line is $5.4 million for a preschool facility, which is the number five priority.

"I would honestly hope the incoming board would look at the top two priorities," Beaudry said. "Everybody in this city knows what's happening at Beech with the portables and with the walls... Give students there the same safe haven other students have and give them a good learning environment."

If the board does pare down the list to only a couple items, it would represent a departure from the board's past practice of sending a long list of capital projects to the aldermen, who set the budget for the school district and are responsible for issuing any bonds.

In the past, the aldermen have voted to fund only one or two items on the list, if any. Last year the only project funded through the budget process was a $3 million bond for energy efficiency upgrades throughout the district.

Earlier this year, the aldermen allocated $265,000 to repair the track at Livingston Park after it had to be closed for Manchester High School Central track meets due to safety concerns.

The Central High track repairs were the number 18 priority on last year's CIP list.tsiefer@unionleader.com


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