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Repair or close? Nashua considers school options as improvement costs mount

Union Leader Correspondent

October 16. 2017 10:02PM

NASHUA — As school officials review the costs to improve two city schools at a combined price tag of more than $60 million, a school board member is raising questions about the future of one of the schools.

Last week, the Board of Education’s finance and operations committee was presented with preliminary cost estimates to upgrade Mount Pleasant Elementary and Elm Street Middle School.

While the costs to improve the middle school are hovering around $50 million, the committee was told that an additional $10 million in hard costs and $4 million in soft costs will be necessary to update Mount Pleasant, located on Manchester Street.

“I don’t know how we would pull the trigger on this kind of investment given our population and where we are going,” board member Robert Hallowell said.

The school currently has 356 students, but Hallowell said enrollment could decrease to 270 students in four or five years.

Hallowell raised the possibility of adding capacity at other schools and relocating Mount Pleasant’s students. “I know everyone will get up in arms,” said Hallowell, stressing that the cost per square foot to renovate the 1925 building is nearly identical to the cost of new construction.

Enrollment figures aren’t the only thing to consider, said Carl DuBois of Harvey Construction. DuBois said the school is located in the city’s historic district and has no available land for expansion, creating significant design challenges.

A heating system upgrade, new light fixtures, a new fire alarm system and windows are being recommended, as well as enhanced security measures. Despite a building addition in 1987, there are still bathroom deficiencies, kitchen problems and classrooms that are smaller than state standards, according to two separate reports.

Board member Howard Coffman said he appreciates Hallowell’s candid comments about the future of the school.

“I agree that it should be on the table,” Coffman said.

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Deficiencies at Elm Street Middle School have led to the proposal for an extensive four-year renovation project that could cost upward of $50 million.

While it is not in imminent danger of failure, DuBois said, there are cracks in the exterior facade, windows need work, the cafeteria needs upgrades and there are not enough classrooms.

Harvey Construction is suggesting that the existing kitchen be demolished and replaced with a four-story addition that would enable the school to remove its portable classrooms. Along with renovating and extending the auditorium, Harvey Construction is also suggesting that the school’s large gym be removed and the space be used to build 16 classrooms.

“I didn’t hear any good news in anything you reported,” said Hallowell, adding it is still important to receive the information in order to make future decisions.

“I think there are opportunities the city should continue to look at if there is land or properties that become available that would make us either have the ability to do some kind of swing space to make some of these things happen temporarily, or to actually think about moving these facilities,” he said.

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