Middle school may become apartments

NASHUA – As part of the city’s $80 million middle school building project, the current Elm Street Middle School may be converted to 100 to 150 housing units.

In that housing conversion scenario, Mayor Jim Donchess said that the school’s auditorium would be preserved. He also said the city has already seen some developers who do these types of conversions express interest.

“So, that is one possibility, which would add 100 or 150 units of housing to that neighborhood, and we do have a housing shortage,” Donchess said.

The Ward 1 town hall-style meeting at Broad Street Elementary School on Tuesday saw a solid crowd gather to listen as Donchess and other city officials spoke of multiple issues.

One topic that arose during the discussion was that of the Elm Street Middle School, which was originally built to serve the city as a high school. As the decades passed, it eventually became a middle school. It is starting to seem as though the city will construct a new school in the south end of Nashua, as opposed to renovating the school.

“If we built the new school, it’s about a two-year project,” Alderman Richard Dowd said. “If we renovate Elm Street, it’s a four-year project.”

Additionally, in that time, the school district would then have to move students around, and as Dowd puts it, time is money, even with inflation. He said that’s a cost to add another two years to the project.

He shared a bit of background as to some of the issues that set this project off in the first place. One issue being that Elm Street Middle School is quite an old building.

Additionally, officials are looking at the building’s structural integrity. Dowd said the classrooms are too small, and by today’s middle school standards, those classrooms should be larger. The city does have an architect and construction manager hired for phase one. They want to find a way to balance the student population among the three middle schools – Elm Street, Fairgrounds and Pennichuck.

“It’s my intent to make sure the middle school project finishes on time and under budget,” Dowd said.

During the Ward 7 town hall-style meeting, Donchess indicated that it seems obvious that at the end of the day, replacement will be the choice the city goes with, as it is most likely the cheaper alternative. The city also already owns the 20-plus acres of property in the city’s south end.

In terms of the housing conversion option for Elm Street, Dowd said said allowing the current building to go for housing would allow it to generate tax revenue, something a public school does not.

“No matter what goes in there, it’s probably going to have some part of that building torn down, probably the stuff in the back that wasn’t built that well,” Dowd said.

“In the end, the analysis will probably make the decision very obvious,” Donchess added.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.