HAMPSTEAD – A specially called Hampstead School Board meeting to consider plans for renovations at Hampstead Central and Middle schools ended where it started, with the intention to move forward with a warrant article for a reduced, $4.5 million renovation plan for Central School alone. That version of the plan was proposed in June by Bread Loaf architect Chris Huston.
Hampstead Board of Selectman Chairman Sean Murphy submitted a letter on the renovations to the board, and requested it be read into the record. That reading did not take place.
Bread Loaf had proposed a much larger renovation plan for both schools that was soundly defeated by voters in March.
At the Tuesday, Sept. 16 meeting, Huston provided a brief overview of the initial project defeated by the voters and a brief summary of the reductions he had presented in June that reduced the overall project cost to $4.5 million.
The overriding focus for the renovations at Central School is the need to get rid of the portables, which school officials say pose a security issue because children must leave a portable and walk to the main building, often alone. In addition, as former School Board chairwoman Natalie Gallo said, the portables reached “end of life” status years ago.
A proposed all-school sprinkler system was eliminated, as was a new elevator and the replacement of a 1960s-era roof.
Huston said there would be no redesign or re-engineering needed for the reduced plan.
Board chairman Greg Hoppa emphasized the need to reach a cost the voters would be willing to approve.
The rest of the board focused on the importance of communicating the need for the renovations to the public.
Hoppa said the board had made a difficult decision at its last meeting to add a first grade teacher and class at Central School, as reported by the Tri-Town Times, and because of space constraints, disruptions will occur. He said they would not have occurred if the renovations had been done.
Both school principals spoke to the board as well. New Middle School Principal Maria DiNola said safety and security are her number one priority and she wants to bring all her students inside the main building.
Central School Principal Dillard Collins gave two lists – one needs-based, one “wants.” Topping his needs-based list was getting the children out of the portables and into the building. Second was storage space, an additional classroom, additional instructional spaces, repairs to the kindergarten wing wall to make it energy efficient and protected from automobile fumes, a septic system update, and additional bathrooms for staff and students.
Fewer than a dozen residents attended the meeting, which was designed to gather public input on the proposed renovations. Parent Suzanne Finocchiaro urged the board not to forget that Middle School portables pose the same security and safety problems as those at Central School. She noted the Middle School trailers are in back of the school, with woods behind them.
She also noted that a neighboring town was able to pass a multi-million-dollar school building project and she thought that board’s use of social networks and a video depicting the current problems and issues delivered to the general public had carried a lot of weight.
Ann Howe, a Budget Committee member, said the timing last year for the bond vote was not great, given the passage of the new police station. She said she hasn’t seen anything concrete in terms of a plan and nothing has been said about what would happen to students and staff during the renovation.
The board members agreed that safety and security were the priorities driving the renovations. They agreed that the renovations should be limited to the needs at Central School, with a focus on convincing the public of that need and justification of the cost.
Budget Committee chairman Jorge Mesa-Tejada suggested the board allow Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson to pull together what is needed and with Huston, and have a plan to put before the board at its Sept. 23 meeting.
Murphy’s written statement to the board said, “The Board understands that many are on fixed incomes.
The Board also understands it has a responsibility to provide an appropriate education to the children of the district, one that will prepare and equip them to be successful in life. An appropriate education includes providing facilities that encourage and foster a learning environment. My question is, Do the facilities we have now encourage and foster a learning environment? If so, then cosmetic and routine maintenance changes would only be needed from year to year. If not, where from a facilities perspective are we missing the mark? What would be required to provide such facilities? Can it be accomplished by making adjustments to how we use current facilities.
“With forecasted declining enrollments, the Board will need to justify the expense of major construction,” he wrote. “As a reminder, it is also the Board’s responsibility to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely and responsibly. Do not go out and buy a Porsche when you can only afford and only need a Honda.”