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August 04. 2014 9:52PM

City panel OKs $1 million in school building design work

MANCHESTER — An aldermen’s committee has backed the school district’s request to spend approximately $1 million for design work on building projects that will cost an estimated $15 million to complete.

The Committee on Community Improvement on Monday voted to endorse the district’s plan to spend the roughly $1 million. The funds would cover the architectural services to convert the Manchester School of Technology to a four-year high school, in line with state standards, and to enclose “open concept” classrooms at Beech Street and Webster elementary schools.

The work at MST will cost an estimated $8.7 million; the work at Beech, which will include building classrooms in the basement in order to eliminate portables, is slated to cost $5.1 million. The work at Webster would cost about $750,000.

All of the funds to design and build the projects are expected to come from bonds paid for out of the district’s budget.

City Finance Director Bill Sanders told the committee the district should be able to cover the debt service on the bonding, which would first have to be approved by the aldermen.

“With a little work, we should be able to feather in (the cost of the new building projects) under existing debt service currently incurred in the district,” he said.

Both the overhaul of MST and filling in the open classrooms have long been unfunded priorities for members of the school board. The partial walls at Beech and Webster result in a difficult learning environment, critics have said. The work at MST is to include more classroom space, a gym and a library — features that are required by the state for four-year high schools.

“We’re having to continue our requests for waivers from state standards,” MST Principal Karen White told the committee. “We’re adding students every year. Next year we’ll be up to 250 students.

Right now we’re at the limit of students that can fit in the building.”

Facilities Manager Kevin O’Maley told the committee that the district wanted authorization “as soon as possible” to move forward with retaining an architect in order to be ready to have construction get underway by next summer.

Ward 7 Alderman Bill Shea inquired whether the district would put out a request for proposals for the architectural services, O’Maley said the district intended to. The $1 million figure is a rough estimate, he said, and would ultimately be determined by the bids received.

Alderman-At-Large Dan O’Neil questioned whether the district would come back to the board with additional funding requests related to MST.

Assistant Superintendent David Ryan replied, “We don’t anticipate coming back ... and asking for additional money to expand the facility.”

The committee voted to recommend authorizing the district to move forward with an RFP for design services, which the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen is expected to vote on this evening.

New bonds would not be authorized until the bid process is complete.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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