School board hears 4 comprehensive elementary building renovation options

A map of the current elementary school distribution, as found in the June 10, 2024 BOSC Packet

MANCHESTER, NH – The Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) received four separate options on the potential future of the city’s public elementary schools as part of the latest update in Phase Two of the Manchester School District Facilities Plan.

Presented by representatives of SMMA, the project management firm for the facilities plan, each of the options was presented without recommendations but rather what paths could be taken to update the city’s public elementary school system facilities to meet commonly accepted best practices in modern education according to the New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE). These changes include, but are not limited to, specialized rooms for “special” classes (art, music, physical education, etc.) and school specialists (therapists, counselors, etc.), “small group” spaces distributed across the school for targeted education, learning commons and secure entry vestibules.

The first option looked just at what it would take to “right-size” or renovate the current schools up to best practice standards. The second option would completely rebuild Gossler Park, Bakersville and Webster Elementary Schools while closing Jewett Street and Smyth Road Elementary Schools. The third option would rebuild Webster, Bakersville, and Weston without closing any schools and the fourth option would rebuild Bakersville, Gossler Park, Jewett Street and Smyth Road. In all of these options, all schools not being rebuilt or closed would be renovated. The options also all include the upcoming new Beech Street Elementary School, which was part of Phase One of the facilities plan.

According to the SMMA team, the first option would provide enough space for 4,360 students and cost approximately $338 million. This plan was seen as a non-starter by members of the board as changes in the schools would be minimal and not meet the likely 5,000 student capacity that eventually will be needed.

The second option would cost $466 million and fit 5,020 students, the third option would cost $523 million and fit 5,120 students and the fourth option would cost $508 million and fit 5,120 students as well. These three options would be able to fit more students while meeting DOE recommendations given the more extensive renovations and rebuilding of several schools in these plans.

All of these budgetary estimates are subject to change given the extended time frame of the plan, which extends from 2028 to 2048 and renovations and reconstruction would be done in several phases based on need and space requirements. Initial estimates presented at the meeting were actually higher than these figures presented in the meeting packet given recent comparison renovations done nearby in Concord used as examples of what would be needed.

At-Large BOSC Member Peter Argeropoulos mentioned that time frame when trying to comprehend the large price tag for the renovations, also noting the importance of a renovated school in his firsthand experience as an educator in Nashua. He was not the only member of the board that stressed the need of investment in the city’s schools despite complaints by opponents of the district citing increasing budgets and decreasing enrollment.

SMMA Architect Matt Rice on June 10, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

“You cannot have a great city without a great public education system,” said Ward 9 BOSC Member Robert Baines.

While SMMA’s panel said they tried to be geographically agnostic when giving their options, Baines noted concerns over a lack of neighborhood schools referenced in recent months over the possible closure of Manchester West High School. Ward 2 BOSC Member Dr. Sean Parr echoed those concerns over the possible closure of Smyth Road Elementary School, located in Ward 2, whose closure would leave only one elementary school left open north of Bridge Street.

BOSC Vice Chair Jim O’Connell noted that even if none of the options were eventually chosen, the district would likely still have to spend several million dollars on the district’s elementary schools on upkeep.

“We don’t have a choice of doing nothing,” he said, adding that all BOSC Members and Aldermen should request tours of schools in the district to get a better understanding of the district’s needs

SMMA Architect Matt Rice told the board that an update on more detailed options for renovation of the city’s public high schools is set for early this fall.