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Haverhill School District Officials Seek Blessing for Building Plans

  • The planned connector building is in the middle and would connect the present Woodsville High building, left, to the John A. Bagonzi Community Building. The Haverhill Cooperative School District is seeking state approval for a special school meeting on Dec. 15 to ask voters to approve a $1.8 million bond in addition to the $3.7 million for renovations to the current buildings and parking lot that was approved last March. (Courtesy SAU 23)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2018 11:11:18 PM
Modified: 12/10/2018 12:04:27 PM

Woodsville — Haverhill Cooperative School District officials are hoping to ask voters for an additional $1.8 million in construction funding for a new connector building at Woodsville High School that would add to a $3.7 million project approved in March.

SAU 23 administrators have a hearing scheduled for Wednesday at Grafton County Superior Court in North Haverhill, where they will request to hold a special school district meeting on Saturday, Superintendent Laurie Melanson said.

The approximately 9,200-square-foot, two-story building would connect the present Woodsville High with the John A. Bagonzi Community Center while providing a new main entrance to the school and housing its music, technology and alternative learning programs. The latter two programs currently are held in separate buildings on campus, both of which would be razed as part of the new project.

The original Woodsville High building dates to 1896.

“It would improve the entry of the building, keep everyone in one building and change the look and feel of our school dramatically,” Melanson said in a recent conference call along with School Board Chairman John Rutherford. “It would help us be a much better place to get a 21st-century education.”

The original renovation bond still would aim to bring the school up to fire and safety codes and make it comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, but a connector building would require the installation of just one elevator instead of two, Rutherford noted. About $600,000 already has been spent on a new basketball floor and locker room remodel at the Bagonzi Center, he said.

The razing of the Bennett building, located across the parking lot from Woodsville High, would eliminate renovation expenses and open parking lot space to improve traffic flow, Melanson said.

The King Street School, which currently houses the alternative learning students, still would be razed as originally planned.

“It would be a much safer setup. Right now we have students going back and forth across an active parking lot,” Melanson said. “This would give us the space to reroute the traffic patterns so that buses and student traffic aren’t intersecting as much.”

If denied at the upcoming hearing, the district would need to wait until March to introduce the bond proposal to voters. Once in voters’ hands, it would need a two-thirds majority to pass.

“We’re ready to put the project out to bid and hopefully have a contract lined up in January,” Rutherford said. “That would allow for construction to begin as soon as school lets out in June and allow the work to be done with as little impact on students as possible.”

The revamped project was designed by Lebanon-based Banwell Architects, which also designed the new Lebanon Middle School in 2010 as well as recent renovation projects at Stevens High in Claremont and at the Lyme School, according to the company’s website.

Up to 60 percent of the project costs could be covered by a state building aid program that recently resurfaced after being suspended during the recession nearly 10 years ago, Melanson said. The amount of any aid received for an approved project in Haverhill wouldn’t be known until June, according to Melanson, but she has made program administrators in Concord aware of the project, she said.

About 25 people attended a public bond hearing about the new project proposal on Nov. 28, Rutherford said.

“There is general optimism, I think, because people can see that this can be a long-term solution for the future of the high school campus,” he said.

Previous renovation efforts haven’t always addressed long-term issues in the Bennett and King Street buildings, such as mold in the latter. Roof repairs to the Bennett Building were part of what was approved in March.

“There are still a couple people I’ve talked to who are concerned about a tax increase, but this is probably the best overall response to a building project that I’ve seen,” Melanson said. “A lot of people realize that we can’t just keep putting Band-Aids on old buildings and that this project would be a huge step forward for the school district.”

Melanson and School Board Vice Chairman Richard Guy believe the connector building would help attract new tuition students from towns such as Bath, Piermont and Warren. Woodsville High currently serves about 200 students, including some from those towns.

“People shop with their eyes,” said Guy, a former School Board chairman. “This is an opportunity to invest in an asset that would help attract people to go to school here and to live here.”

The new proposal would amount to a tax increase of $76, on top of a $150 increase for approved $3.7 million project, on a home valued at $200,000, but that would be lowered with any state aid received, Melanson said, adding that the project is “first on a ranked list” of building aid candidates.

If approved by the court, Saturday’s special meeting would be held at 10 a.m. at Haverhill Cooperative Middle School. The bond would require a two-thirds majority via ballot vote to pass.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com.

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