Cloudy
61°
Cloudy
Hi 62° | Lo 50°

Claremont Residents Hear Preliminary Plans for $13 Million Stevens High School Renovation

Claremont — About 20 residents turned out yesterday for an informational forum on recommended renovations for Stevens High School that would cost an estimated $13 million, according Ingrid Nichols with Banwell Architects of Lebanon.

Nichols presented the draft budget and preliminary plans and explained in detail the upgrades and improvements that would be made if voters approve a bond article in March.

Highlights include increasing the number of 800-square-foot classrooms from 26 to 31; upgrading the science rooms and consolidating them in one area; expanding the cafeteria to accommodate all students during lunch and renovating the kitchen.

Other changes include upgrading all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; installing new doors and some windows; making the entire building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, improving energy efficiency, including the installation of a wood pellet system and adding insulation; creating a bus loop and car drop off area out front and adding parking; consolidating storage space and upgrading the locker rooms.

There would also be a new security system. At the absolute minimum, Nichols said, the school district must fix the boilers, install new doors to meet code requirements, bring the building up to ADA standards and replace sections of the roof. Her firm had not developed a cost estimate for the minimum needs, Nichols said, but could provide one.

Except for a new main entrance on Broad Street and a new events access on the building’s north side, Nichols said, all of the renovations would be done within the existing building.

“We were trying to understand what your minimum needs were and build up from there,” Nichols said during the forum in the high school auditorium.

Before Nichols spoke, School Board Chairman Richard Seaman said bringing the city’s high school up to accreditation standards is a critical piece — along with housing and a strong work force — to the city’s economic development plans.

The chairman said some have asked why the board is moving so fast.

“In many ways, we are not moving that fast,” he said, pointing out that the board is using much of what the former architect had done for the $23 million plan that lost by one vote in 2010.

“We are building on what is there. This is the right time for the third piece of the economic development tool.”

Later in the forum, SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin echoed Seaman’s view: Renovating Stevens is about more than creating a better educational environment. It is also about attracting industry and lowering the tax rate in the long term.

“I am confident the city of Claremont can’t move forward without the school district,” McGoodwin said.

Stevens is on probation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and McGoodwin said that reputation makes it hard to bring in industry.

“This is about the city of Claremont,” McGoodwin said.

Resident Richard Nelson said he has heard the economic development argument before.

“Ten to 15 years ago I heard the same thing and we still don’t have the jobs,” Nelson said.

The issue of state aid also was discussed.

The $23 million project that was defeated in 2010 would have included 60 percent state building aid. Soon after that defeat, the Legislature put a moratorium on state building aid. While the moratorium is being lifted July 1, there is only a small amount available and most of it is for existing projects. Seaman said the defeated project would have cost taxpayers $17 million, which included principal and interest payments on the bond.

The proposal presented yesterday — $13 million for construction and other costs, plus interest — would cost about the same, with no state aid.

“Let’s not worry about what the state may do. Let’s worry about what we can do,” Seaman said.

Gary Bertram, of Hutter Construction, told yesterday’s forum that if a bond issue were approved in March, he anticipated work would start in the summer and could be completed before school begins in August 2014.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.