Unity School Nearly Ready
‘It Is Going to Be a Great Day When It Opens’
Unity Elementary School Principal Chip Baldwin hugs Sergio Pritchett, 13, of Unity, as Keith Lessard, of Manchester, N.H., fixes his wheelchair in the principal's office of the new school building in Unity, N.H., on August 26, 2014. Baldwin joked that Sergio, who will be in eighth grade this year, was the first student sent to the principal's office. The school is scheduled to open on September 8. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
The new Unity Elementary School, as seen through playground equipment, in Unity, N.H., on August 26, 2014. The school is scheduled to open on September 8 instead of September 2 as originally planned. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Walter Stevens, of Newport, N.H., paints the media center in the new Unity Elementary School building in Unity, N.H., on August 26, 2014. The school is scheduled to open on September 8, pushed back from the original date of September 2. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Unity Elementary School Principal Chip Baldwin looks over the gym from a balcony during a tour of the new school building in Unity, N.H., on August 26, 2014. The school is scheduled to open on September 8, pushed back from the original date of September 2. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Unity — After years of waiting, what’s a few more days?
That was the sentiment in Unity this week after the School Board announced a delay to the beginning of the inaugural year in the town’s new K-8 elementary school.
The opening of the building — which has been plagued by controversy, lengthy delays and cost overruns — will be the culmination of a seemingly endless four-year saga that began when the state forced the town to close its old elementary school because of safety code violations.
“As much as the town has been through, what is another four days?” Adam Boardman said Tuesday evening after the School Board voted to delay the opening from next Tuesday to Sept. 8.
Boardman, who was critical of the construction project during sometimes contentious School Board meetings earlier this year, but also one of the project’s most active volunteers, said he favored the delay to give the contractor, Trumbull-Nelson, and teachers a little more time to get classrooms ready for students.
“Trumbull-Nelson has made great strides the last few weeks, but it seems there is no reason not to allow a few extra days to clean,” Boardman said. “There is still a lot of stuff in boxes.”
Principal Chip Baldwin reiterated Wednesday what he had told the board prior to Tuesday’s vote: he did not think the delay was necessary but he understood why the board wanted to give construction workers and teachers more time.
“The biggest thing is cleaning of the building,” Baldwin said. “There is a lot of dust. And the teachers are probably relieved to have the Labor Day weekend off.”
During a tour of the building on Tuesday, Trumbull-Nelson Executive Vice President Ron Bauer, who is the project manager, said he was confident the building would be ready for teachers and students as scheduled on Sept. 2. He had previously pledged to residents that it would be ready at a public hearing on Feb. 25.
“Everyone put their heart and soul into getting there, so it is a little disappointing,” Bauer said. “Feels like we sort of let the town down, but it is the choice of the School Board and we respect that.”
After the vote by the board, Bauer said he still thinks they could have met the Tuesday deadline.
“I am confident we will pass the inspections (Wednesday and today) and we will have our certificate of occupancy,” Bauer said. “But you have to put yourself in the teachers’ shoes. I understand their point of view, and you got to do what is best for the teachers. And parents don’t want their children in a school that is dusty.”
The additional days will also allow for more work to be completed, Bauer said, including installation of basketball hoops and more progress on two second-floor greenhouses.
SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin reiterated the reason for the delay was for teacher preparation, not the construction.
“There are boxes and boxes of material that only recently were brought into the classrooms that have been in storage,” McGoodwin said. “That is a lot of work to do. It is being considerate of the faculty, and why make them spend Labor Day weekend working at the school? It was decided that it is in the best interest of the faculty if they spent a few more days preparing.”
Baldwin said the board’s vote has not dampened anyone’s enthusiasm for finally completing the project, which began at $4.7 million in August 2010 but ballooned to about $9 million and is two years behind schedule.
“What I am hearing is people are absolutely thrilled that it is done and finished and the kids will finally be in the school,” the principal said Tuesday at the school.
On Wednesday, the building passed several inspections, including plumbing and a water quality test, and teachers were at work preparing their rooms.
Bauer praised Baldwin and the volunteers who regularly showed up over the summer to pitch in wherever needed.
“Seems like Chip is here 24/7,” Bauer said. “Every single day he is doing physical labor, working as hard as the crew.”
Baldwin estimated as many as 40 people volunteered their time.
“It has been amazing,” he said.
Boardman said the opening should be celebrated, despite the tortured path the project took.
“It is going to be a great day when it opens,” he said. “It is going to last us a long time. Nobody is happy with the price tag, but that is over and done with.”
Joe Warner, another resident who has closely followed the project, said Unity needs to recognize the quality of the building.
“Trumbull-Nelson has said it is very well-designed, well-engineered and structurally sound,” Warner said. “I am delighted. I have been in the classrooms, and they are beautiful. There is a lot of space and a lot of good stuff for the kids.”
Adding a full-size gymnasium was an important and wise decision, Warner said.
“To me, it is only rational to create a space to accommodate the entire town,” he said. “Most towns have that sort of space.”
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com.