Newport school district expects to move ahead with SRVTC renovation, expansion

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 02-17-2023 1:35 PM

NEWPORT — Decades-old restrictions on how the location of a former hockey rink can be used by the school district won’t stand in the way of building a new agricultural center for students. But officials do have to identify another parcel in town for a rink or other recreation purposes to avoid potential penalties from the state.

However, where the new recreation site will be, how much it will cost to acquire and improve, and who pays for it remain undetermined.

The school district has been moving ahead with plans to break ground this spring for a 10,000-square-foot agricultural center on land just north of the high school as part of a $15.4 million project approved by voters last March to expand and renovate the Sugar River Valley Technical Center.

During the discussion about the project last month at a Planning Board meeting, resident Ed Karr informed the board that building on the site of the former hockey rink would violate the condition of the grant used to buy land for the rink and other recreational purposes in the 1970s. Without an alternate site for recreation, he said, the state could impose penalties.

At this week’s Planning Board meeting, Planning and Zoning Administrator Christina Donovan gave an update based on research of the grant conditions and confirmed Karr’s assessment.

“The hockey rink was built on land designated for recreational purposes,” Donovan said. “It has to stay that way unless it is replaced somewhere else.”

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The grant states that the 150 acres granted to Newport in 1974 gives the town the “right to construct, operate and maintain 6 tennis courts, three basketball courts, a natural ice skating rink, a multi-purpose turf field and a 35 meter ski jump located at the site of the Newport Jr High School. No other uses, or the conversion or disposal of any part of the project site will be permitted without prior approval of the NH State Liaison Officer and the Director of National Park Service.”

Donovan said the town cannot designate an area already used for recreation.

In her research, Donovan said the superintendent and town manager at the time signed the documents related to the grant and it appeared to be a “collaboration.”

SAU 43 Superintendent Donna Magoon said she has been having conversations with the state to resolve the issue.

Magoon and Donovan agreed the school district can begin construction on the agricultural building in the spring as long as they are making progress toward a solution for the recreaction site.

“It should not hold up permits as long as we are looking and plan to resolve this,” Magoon told the board.

Donovan and Karr warned that failure to satisfy the terms of the grant would jeopardize existing and future grants for both the town and school district.

“We don’t think this will prevent the CTE (Career Technical Education building) from going there,” Magoon said. “We are doing everything in our power to be sure this does not impact the CTE.”

Though another parcel has not been found, Magoon and Planning Board member Bert Spaulding, who also is on the School Board, expressed confidence that a site will be found and a plan to put place to satisfy the terms of the grant and allow construction to begin on time.

“It will be done,” Spaulding said.

The presentation to the Planning Board was done as a courtesy because the board does not have authority over the project.

Donovan said she would present her information to the town manager and Selectboard.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

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