Living at the school

City leaders are strongly considering a sale of Elm Street Middle School, which at one time served as the Nashua High School, for renovation and conversion into an apartment complex.

“So, that is one possibility, which would add 100 or 150 units of housing to that neighborhood, and we do have a housing shortage,” Mayor Jim Donchess said during a town hall-style meeting last week.

Last year, school district and city officials said Elm Street has simply become inadequate for use as a school. In fact, they estimated it would cost $50 million to address the plethora of problems, including:

• Out-of-date mechanical and plumbing systems;

• The lack of insulation inside the walls lacking insulation;

“Undulating” floors;

• A very limited number of parking spaces; and

• The lack of fields for athletic contests.

Also last year, Nashua Board of Education voted unanimously to proceed with plans for a nearly $80 million district-wide middle school construction/renovation project. Officials’ stated objective is to create three middle schools, with each capable of housing and educating about 800 students.

While the current Fairgrounds and Pennichuck middle schools are slated for some upgrades, the city’s main focus continues to be on what to do with Elm Street. Initially, officials said they would probably choose to renovate the school, but it is seems plans are changing.

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

Dowd also pointed out that allowing the current building to be sold for housing would allow it to generate tax revenue, something a public school does not.

As we have stated in this space many times, housing in Nashua is at a premium. Also, given the successful conversion of former industrial buildings for housing – specifically Clocktower Place, the Cotton Mill and Lofts 34 – we have no doubt that such a project would work at Elm Street.

Still, we ask city officials to make sure this is the path they want to take. A private developer likely will earn substantial profits from such a unique housing option in the long-term, so Donchess and other elected leaders must make sure to get as much taxpayers’ value from the building as they can. They should also consider the sentimental value of Elm Street, as many long-time residents will surely miss the school.