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Board considers state aid for Mount Lebanon School renovation

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2020 9:35:30 PM
Modified: 9/16/2020 9:35:22 PM

LEBANON — School officials will decide next week whether to craft standalone plans to renovate the Mount Lebanon School after the state offered to pay for part of the proposed upgrades.

About $300,000 in design work, including the hiring of engineers and drafting detailed plans, is required from the school district to qualify for $737,940 in newly available state building aid, Superintendent Joanne Roberts recently told the School Board.

That money also would be contingent on the school district passing a roughly $4.4 million bond for upgrades at the West Lebanon elementary school during the March municipal election, a prospect that appeared dim to some School Board members who discussed the matter last week.

“As much as I would love to see Mount Lebanon get renovated, I don’t think it makes much sense right now,” School Board member Tom Harkins said in a CATV recording of Wednesday’s meeting.

Board member Mary Edes agreed and reminded colleagues that larger plans to renovate three of Lebanon’s school buildings have so far proved unsuccessful before voters.

While she’d like to see the school renovated, Edes said, spending $300,000 on just one school is “too much.”

City residents voted,1,229-932, in March to approve the school district’s $20.4 million “modernization” projects, a combination of efforts to upgrade the entryways and instructional spaces at the Mount Lebanon, Hanover Street and Lebanon High schools.

However, that vote failed to pass a 60% threshold needed for a 20-year bond. Similar efforts in 2019 and 2018 also were unsuccessful in reaching that level of support.

Under those plans, upgrades proposed for the Mount Lebanon School included the expansion of its multipurpose room to include a stage, a kitchen capable of serving hot lunches, a more secure main entryway and a new general office suite.

Roberts said last week the school district initially applied for state grants during the 2017-18 school year when officials heard rumblings that building aid would again be offered after a 10-year moratorium.

They were right, and lawmakers put $7 million into the fund as part of New Hampshire’s 2020-21 budget.

The money was enough to fund three projects at the top of the list. The Mount Lebanon project was fourth.

However, Lebanon was informed in June that more than $700,000 was leftover.

But obtaining that money comes with caveats.

Detailed drawings and technical specifications, proof of a successful city vote, a letter from the state Fire Marshal’s Office approving construction and a signed contract for the work are due to the Department of Education by May 15, 2021.

Architects say checking off those boxes will take at least four months. If all goes well, the project could be out to bid by January and construction could start in June, Roberts said in a July memo to the School Board.

“I would say it’s doable but the time frame is extremely tight,” she said last week.

If the board declines to pursue the funding, Lebanon would be put in the queue for future grant cycles. Roberts cautioned that it’s unlikely the city will top the list again, though.

When the school district first applied for building aid, it was among five schools competing for funding. Now, there’s upward of 50, she said.

“What this means is that we are finding out now that the funding’s available and so in order for us to obtain those funds, the board has to decide at the next school board meeting if they want to fund about $300,000 for the plans to be created and the work to be done,” Roberts said.

The School Board will make its decision whether to pursue the state grant when its meets on Wednesday.

Its Finance and Facilities Committee will also discuss the matter during its Monday meeting.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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