HOOKSETT — School Board member Jim Sullivan believes the ultimate long-term solution for Hooksett’s ongoing high school dilemma is to build a new school in town.
The thought is not new, of course.
Sullivan said minutes from Town Meetings in the 1960s offer a glimpse into concepts such as adding an extension onto Hooksett Memorial School and turning it into a high school.
And yet the dream remains among some residents and officials in town.
The school district, as Sullivan noted, has explored the idea through several studies the last several decades, most recently in 2012. Superintendent Charles Littlefield presented the compiled results of that study at last week’s school board meeting.
The projected cost for the building, design, construction and furnishings for a 600-student Hooksett high school — with the ability to support 900 students — is more than $42.2 million, with no accompanying auditorium. The estimate includes $7.5 million to purchase 25 buildable acres of land. Conversely, the 700-student Windham High School cost $50 million in 2009 and Bedford’s high school/middle school complex, which houses 1,500 students, cost taxpayers roughly $50 million in 2005. Bow’s 675-student high school carried a $13.3 million price tag in 1997.
The study also indicated it would cost $9.3 million to convert Hooksett’s 10-year-old Cawley Middle School into a high school, including additional parking and two new fields, with an additional $29.6 million for a new middle school.
The school district is in the process of accepting a donation of an 89-acre property in the northern corridor of town from Manchester Sand & Gravel Co., though not all the land is developable.
Sullivan said he’s heard enough feedback from fellow residents to express confidence that voters would like to at least explore the option of a Hooksett-only high school.
“In regards to the report, I did find it interesting, but asked if it could go further in indicating what our Hooksett High School would be offering beyond the required items,” he said. “A Hooksett High would be a full commitment to determining our own future, in funding and its impact on the taxpayers. Hooksett would demand not just the minimums, and that’s what I want to hear.
“If the town does build high school they, and I, would want to know the details, course specifics, curriculum needs, etc. We really only get to the building cost and the estimated operating cost,” he said. “Until we actually see what a Hooksett High will include, it really will be hard to make the ultimate choice.”
School Board Chairman Joanne McHugh said Sullivan is asking important questions and recognized the value of having the data available when residents inquire, but noted an additional impediment in the reality that the state no longer offers the 30 percent building aid reimbursement, which Bow, Bedford and Windham all received.
“Also remember that in order to have a high school, you also would need to have sufficient numbers in order to offer the breath of courses for a comprehensive high school,” said McHugh. “I do not see this as a viable option for this community at this point.”
Likewise, school board member Todd Lizotte said the concept is unrealistic within the next six years.
“The reason is that Hooksett taxpayers are reaching saturation in terms of taxes and without state matching grants, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “What we should do is to keep focused on trying to gain more efficiency in taxpayer funded education, both K-8 as well as high school.”
In the meantime, Hooksett continues to negotiate with both Pinkerton Academy and the Manchester School District on extended tuition agreements, while maintaining memorandums of understanding with Bow, Pembroke and Londonderry.
“At this moment, we are dealing with the high school issue and we can see that it is more complex than was considered a year ago,” said Lizotte. “Students face a level of complexity in creating a strategy for their high school education to ensure that it allows them options either for college or access to trades training. At this point in time, we need to find the solution for all our students educational needs which will provide a three- to four-year period of time for the community to evaluate the potential of a Hooksett High School within the next ten years.”