Hollis Brookline High School renovations discussed in open forum

HOLLIS – A few dozen people braved the cold, rainy weather Tuesday night to participate in a Hollis Brookline High School public forum, the second in a few months to discuss options for two proposed renovations.

The first meeting, in

October, laid out the need to expand the current space for the high school robotics program. Suggested options included adding a second level to the current fitness center, or filling in the “L-shape” of the building, SAU41 Superintendent Andrew Corey said at the time.

The second half of what he referred to as a “two-fold plan” addressed the “desperate” need for an additional rectangular athletic field, and offered grass or synthetic turf as options.

After feedback from the last forum, Corey said they have decided to explore the second-level renovation for the robotics lab plus a new technology center with an additional “bump out” for added space, and to investigate synthetic turf for the field.

The two options will be offered as separate warrant items when presented to the public, are projected to cost $1.9 million and $1.6 million,

respectively.

Before the presentation kicked off, Corey invited attendees to tour the space suggested for the area, which also would mean an upgrade for the fitness department, which, currently on the ground floor, would move to the new second level.

This space would double the current robotics department’s size, which presently operates out of the middle school, in an area which is “over crowded and cluttered” and has “potential safety issues,” Corey said during the presentation.

The equipment for the robotics lab, the lighting for the field, and the fitness equipment were not built into the estimated costs, as they are funded through private donors, the first of which, for $150,000 was just pledged, he said.

The grass field initially appeared to be the cheaper option, but due to the longevity of the turf and the lack of constant maintenance, the turf ended up being more cost effective.

At the last meeting, he said, people wanted to know what possible revenue sources the field would have to offset the cost, but Corey said that after looking at Souhegan’s model, he thought that using it as a source of revenue would not be a reasonable solution. The other town had predicted far higher numbers than what they brought in, he said.

He also discussed the options for paying for the project: bonding and leasing, using figures with the combined costs of the two projects, at around $3.5

million.

With a bond, he said, the average home in Hollis would see an increase of $15 for fiscal year 2019, and an increase of $89 for fiscal year 2020. Those numbers for Brookline were $10 and $61, respectively.

With a lease, which is how the district paid for boiler and solar renovations at Hollis Upper Elementary School, the increase for Hollis would stay at $113 and in Brookline at $78.

After the presentation concluded, Cameron, a high school student on the robotics team led the group through what the new robotics and fitness spaces could look like.

He had designed a virtual 3D rendering of what the completed space could look like, complete with art in the athletic director’s future office.

Tom Whalen from the athletic boosters club said he was “so geeked out about this” model and was impressed with Cameron, who represented the “next generation of students we are educating.”

After the virtual tour, the forum opened up for public questions and comments, which, since the idea has not yet come to vote, were relatively constructive for how Corey and the rest of the facilities committee could improve the presentation and strengthen the argument in favor of the renovations.

For example, Eliza LeCours wanted to know how these additions would benefit students who are not on the engineering track, who might naturally lean toward liberal arts. She suggested something, like a career day, to introduce the general population and groups like young women, to the possibilities of pursuing STEM paths, so as not to only cater to the kids already involved in the programs.

One Hollis resident said he was concerned with declining numbers in the robotics program. A few years ago, when the program was still at the high school, there were close to 100 kids, but now their numbers are hovering around 50.

Corey said they would look into the reasons further, but in talking to students he felt one of the main reasons was that students now have to dedicate time outside of normal school or club hours (instead of being able to stop by during a study period) and also have to go to the middle school.

He also suggested that the district start looking into where those projected donations would be coming from, so that when the presentation moves forward, there already is a source identified.

The next steps, Corey said, are to bring the plans to the New Hampshire Department of Education for review, continue community outreach and bring it to the school board to move forward with the articles.

If all that comes to fruition, the plan is to vote on the warrants at the annual school board meeting in March.

More information, including copies of the presentation, are available at www.sau41.org.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com