The Rumney School Board held a public informational session on September 25, 2013 to propose school construction plans that would address long-standing deficiencies in building codes and heating issues plaguing Russell Elementary School.
Stewart Associates Architects, LLC of Laconia, provided a slide presentation to reveal two construction options for residents’ consideration and the estimated costs for each plan. Scheme A, as they call it, would involve new construction of 9,193 sq. ft., renovation of 10,205 sq. ft., and HVAC upgrades for 18,807 sq. ft. with an estimated cost of $3,750,000. Scheme B would involve new construction of 14,199 sq. ft., renovation of 672 sq. ft., and HVAC upgrades for 19,123 sq. ft. with an estimated cost of $3,650,000. It should be noted that additional “possible solutions” were included in the report, although Schemes A and B dominated the discussion.
With fifty-five percent of Rumney tax dollars (.55 per tax dollar) assigned to the Rumney School District, and twenty-six percent (.26 per tax dollar) allocated to town services, attendance at a meeting to discuss options that will consequently raise taxes and impact Rumney schoolchildren garnered attendance of roughly twenty-five people- a meager turnout.
During a question and answer period Russell School Principal, Peter Helgerson, presented the option to pursue grant funding from the state to lessen the financial burden on taxpayers, however, he expressed there are no guarantees that aid will be awarded to the School District. Mr. Helgerson asserted that applying for grant funds will require a sincere interest and commitment by the residents to move forward with one of the proposed construction plans. The grant process would entail the state reviewing both construction plans and determining a percentage of financial aid, if any, to each plan and funds would be scheduled for disbursement to the District within a one- to fifteen-year timeframe. Based on the grant application results, residents would ultimately vote to approve or deny moving forward with one of the plans at a future Town Meeting.
With lingering issues of outdated building codes, ongoing heating deficiencies, and the long-standing absence of a fire sprinkler system with a warning that the school may not pass fire inspection requirements, the School Board finds itself at a crossroad leaving residents to choose a course of action to address these persistent issues. It was noted by one resident that regionalization had not been presented as an option to address the problems facing the District. Another resident introduced the topic of school population for its merit in considering regionalization and its potential to ease the tax burden on Rumney taxpayers, while still providing the schoolchildren with an academic infrastructure that meets current regulations for public schools.
Given the in-depth and time-consuming grant application, the School Board sought direction from residents if they were in favor of the Board moving forward with the grant process; however, residents had more questions for the Board than answers. A general consensus of those present suggested that the Board should also pursue the possibility of regionalizing with a neighboring district.
If the town is going to direct the School Board on such matters, resident attendance and participation at informational meetings is paramount. As a constituent, you should feel free to communicate your questions, concerns, and opinions to the School Board. With far-reaching consequences to every solution, community participation in discussions, support from SAU48, and diligent research by the Board will be critical. Doing our homework now may effect an outcome that can stand the test of time.