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Committee chair nixes discussion, leaves some Manchester board members fuming

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 23. 2018 10:10PM


MANCHESTER — Authorize now. Ask questions later.

That was the message conveyed Tuesday at City Hall by a majority of members of the school board’s Committee on Buildings and Sites, who voted to authorize school administrators to proceed with securing a construction manager to oversee the relocation of the district’s administrative offices from a condo on McGregor Street into space at Manchester High School West — despite a declaration by committee chair Leslie Want of Ward 4 that no questions would be entertained following a brief presentation by an architect on his plans for the move.

Instead, Want explained, a special committee meeting will be scheduled “sometime in the next two weeks” where school board members, district administrators, West High School teachers, students and city residents can ask questions and offer input about the project.

“This conversation is going to be a lengthy one,” said Want. “We need to have everyone in who wants to have a say.”

Want’s statement preceded a very brief presentation by Fred Matuszewski of the architectural firm Corzilius Matuszewski Krause (CMK) Architects — the firm heading up the redesign of West High School — on his preliminary plan for renovations needed ahead of the planned relocation of the district offices.

Matuszewski touched briefly in his presentation on work necessary to address several security issues, including a locked entrance to the administrative offices and security camera.

“With the development of this plan, we can get to work with a construction manager, and get pricing and a shopping list of items and begin to compare prices,” said Matuszewski.

“My concern is time,” said school facilities manager Josh Gagne. “We have long lead items that need to get ordered hopefully by the end of March so we can have them here in time for construction season. We need the construction manager right away in order to proceed.”

Citing poor weather conditions, a lack of members of the public in attendance, and the lengthy agenda ahead of them, Want said she would entertain a motion by the committee authorizing district officials to choose a construction manager to move the process forward — with the understanding that board members could ask questions about the relocation plans at a yet-to-be-scheduled special meeting in the next two weeks.

That angered some board members, who felt they had been promised at Monday night’s full school board meeting that they would be given a chance to ask questions at Tuesday’s committee meeting.

“(Supt. of Schools) Dr. (Bolgen) Vargas said ‘tomorrow night all of your questions will be answered,” said Committeeman John Avard of Ward 10. “It’s particularly treacherous conditions out there. I left the house and was told we were supposed to be getting answers tonight, and once again we are being told we’re not asking questions.”

“I’m not going to vote to move anything forward without knowing exactly what it is I’m voting to move forward,” said Commmitteeman Rich Girard.

Girard made a motion to overturn Want’s ruling against asking questions. That motion failed on a 2-3 vote, with Girard and Ward 8’s Jimmy Lehoux in favor, and Want, Dan Bergeron of Ward 6 and Ross Terrio of Ward 7 against.

“I will not vote for this to protest not being allowed to ask questions, and to protest the heavy hand of the chair, who gets to decide that we can’t ask questions,” said Girard. “We are on the record then, that this committee is not asking questions?”

“This is not the time to have this discussion, that’s how I’d like to run it,” said Want. “If I’m on the record, then so be it.”

A motion authorizing school officials to proceed with choosing a construction manager passed on a 3-1 vote, with Want, Bergeron, and Terrio in favor, Girard opposed and Lehoux abstaining.

Education General News Local and County Government Manchester

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