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Schools OK with renting Verizon for grads

MANCHESTER — Several New Hampshire schools spend thousands of dollars to rent Verizon Wireless Arena for graduation ceremonies in what administrators say is an effort to guarantee the commencements go off without a hitch.

Several school leaders said the costs to rent the arena, which are as high as $11,000, depending on the school, are slightly higher than what the schools would spend to hold the ceremonies on school grounds. While the grounds would be free, the schools would still have to pay to rent chairs, hire security and, in the case of outdoor ceremonies, provide portable bathrooms, administrators said.

&#';It's pretty expensive to even hold it here,&#'; Randy Bell, superintendent of the Hudson School District, said of Alvirne High School. The school held its commencement at the arena Thursday at a cost of $5,700. &#';It's not a substantial cost increase to hold it at the Verizon.&#';

Londonderry High School had the highest cost, at $11,118. Londonderry Schools Superintendent Nathan Greenberg said the school used to spend about $10,000 to hold the ceremony on school grounds.

&#';For us, the cost is pretty much a wash, and we can accommodate more people&#'; at the arena, Greenberg said.

&#';It's not significantly more expensive than what it would cost to provide the ceremony in our own facility,&#'; said Nashua Schools Superintendent Mark Conrad. Nashua High School North and South each paid about $7,500 to rent the arena for today's graduation ceremonies, he said.

Judy Blachek, whose son, Tom Paolillo, is graduating from Nashua High South today, said she thinks the school district made the right choice in renting the arena.

&#';I think it's practical,&#'; she said. &#';You can still have a lot of people attend and not have to worry about the weather outside.&#';

Manchester's three schools held graduations Saturday at the arena at no cost, Mayor Ted Gatsas said. The schools have had free use of the arena since 2010 for commencements.

The prospect of asking students and parents to drive from Hudson, Nashua, Derry or Londonderry didn't seem so bad when compared with the upside of being able to nail down a time, date and place in a climate-controlled environment, administrators said.

Bell said Alvirne began holding its ceremonies at the arena in 2002 after an &#';emergency&#'; caused by bad weather forced the school to find a venue quickly. The arena was the only available place large enough to accommodate the commencement, Bell said.

The next year, the senior class voted &#';overwhelmingly&#'; to have its ceremony at the arena, he said, and the venue has since hosted Alvirne's graduations and has become something of a tradition, he said.

&#';A half-hour drive up the highway to make sure we actually have the graduation — we don't have anybody registering any kind of complaint about that,&#'; Bell said.

The arena can hold 12,000 people, which is a major plus.

&#';When we had it in the gym, less than half the people who wanted to be here could attend,&#'; Bell said. &#';Having it indoors here just freezes out too many people.&#';

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Tim Buckland may be reached at tbuckland@unionleader.com.

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