Board greenlights project

Middle school renovations’ cost could reach $80M

Staff photo by Hannah LaClaire Students head home from Elm Street Middle School Monday afternoon. The building needs an estimated $50 million in renovations.

NASHUA – With floors described as “undulating,” outdated mechanical and plumbing systems, and a lack of athletic fields, Elm Street Middle School needs about $50 million worth of work.

Therefore, the Nashua Board of Education on Monday voted unanimously to move forward with plans for a district-wide middle school construction project, which could ultimately cost nearly $80 million.

“The Nashua School District is embarking on a comprehensive, multi-million-dollar middle school project,” district officials said in a memo. The project will encompass “bricks-and-mortar as well as further development for middle school curriculum and delivery.”

Superintendent Jahmal Mosley and other administrative personnel, Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess, Aldermen Rick Down and Brian McCarthy and others met last week to determine the district’s needs versus aspirations. They ultimately created a draft for the middle school project.

Close to 450 students who would normally attend Nashua middle schools are not doing so, Mosley told the board in a presentation Monday night. These students are instead opting for homeschool, private or charter schools. There are an additional 17 middle school students in out-of-district special education placements.

This middle school project would seek to attract and retain those 448 “missing” students while exploring the schools’ capacity to support STEM activities, Career Technical Education programs, special education students, extracurriculars and more while being equitable across all the schools.

Each building – Fairgrounds, Elm Street and Pennichuck – will receive a construction evaluation. None of the three have been renovated since at least the 1990s.

The necessary renovations to Elm Street Middle School, which total at least $50 million in hard construction costs alone, make the school the “most pressing” of the three, according to the presentation. The board and city have not yet decided whether they will renovate the current building or opt to build a new school.

The building was built in the 1930s and currently does not support the educational space guidelines for 21st century learning, as set forth by the state, a September assessment of the building determined.

The assessment, conducted by Harriman Associates, considered the physical attributes of the building, as well as the suitability for education, meaning whether the building meets state standards.

According to their assessments, it does not.

Additionally, the mechanical and plumbing systems are out of date, the walls lack insulation and the structural integrity of the floors, which have been described as “undulating,” are suspect.

Outside of the building, there is a “severe” lack of parking, as mentioned in the presentation, as well as no sports fields for students, which becomes an equity issue when compared to the other middle schools.

Due to the vertical nature of the building and the constraints of renovating an occupied school, construction could take up to four years.

During a meeting in early October, board members weighed the advantages of renovating the school against building a new one. The option of purchasing the former Daniel Webster College building was explored, but ultimately denied. Then-board member Robert Hallowell suggested that the school could be repurposed, allowing officials to sell the space and use the money to build a new school.

During that meeting, Hallowell said the board would not be ready to move forward in the process for the next 12 months, and likely not within the next two or three years.

While Elm Street has the most immediate need, the other schools have necessary renovations as well. Fairgrounds has an inadequate gym and insufficient special education spaces. And although Elm Street has eight classrooms housed in portable classroom units, Pennichuck has an additional four.

The overall project, as outlined in the presentation, would start in earnest over the summer, during which the Joint Special School Building Committee (consisting of five board members and five aldermen) would hire an architect, construction manager and other consultants.

Throughout fiscal year 2019, they would continue to address and evaluate need, develop designs and update cost estimates. Construction would tentatively start in summer 2020.

A construction cash flow spreadsheet estimates that by 2026, the district will spend just shy of $80 million on the middle school projects alone, with the bulk of the cost being used in FY 2022 and 2023 at $25 million and $26 million, respectively. These will be addressed through bonds, McCarthy said at the meeting.

The presentation also included renovations for Mount Pleasant Elementary School (which was assessed as needing almost $11 million in work), Main Dunstable Elementary school, and Birch Hill Elementary School. All three schools were given a two year projected timeline.

However, the combined $37.7 million needed for the three elementary schools is not listed as being allocated for construction until fiscal years 2025 and 2026.

With the board approval Monday night, the project will move to the Joint Special School Building Committee for review, refinement and evaluation.

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