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Relocation of Manchester School District offices continues, could be complete by fall

By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader

February 20. 2018 11:29PM




MANCHESTER — The relocation of the school district offices from condominium units on McGregor Street to Manchester High School West is moving ahead, and could be completed as early as this fall.

This according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas, who went before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Tuesday night along with School Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis, and School Board Vice Chairman Art Beaudry to give an update on the planned move, which “if all goes as planned” Vargas believes could be completed by October.

The move has come into question in recent weeks, with some aldermen and school board members questioning the effect such a move might have on redistricting plans in the city, and whether it would result in any financial savings for the district.

“Once they begin the processs of construction at West High School, that takes them out of the picture for anything else,” Aldermen-at-Large Dan O’Neil told board members earlier this month. “I’m not saying I have the answers, but once the district offices move it takes West out of any opportunity, no matter what the thought is down the road. I think if we can slow that up...moving the district office went through in record time in December, without a lot of discussion. This isn’t just about the budget. This is about long term.”

“I have a lot of questions about this project,” said Ward 10 Committeeman John Avard at a recent school board meeting. “I don’t believe that it’s necessarily a wise move to begin with. It would move West High School to about 75 percent capacity — we are looking to draw in more students, and this doesn’t give us a lot of leeway.”

Minutes pulled by city staff prior to Tuesday night’s session show the planned relocation was included in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget that was approved by both the school board and aldermen. A specific vote regarding the move itself was not taken, though the move was included in the overall budget.

The school board then passed a motion to refer the move of the district office to West High School to the aldermen for funding approval. City aldermen approved funding $1.4 million for the move.

O’Neil said impressions that the planned relocation is a “done deal” may not be entirely accurate.

“This board could still rescind the bond,” said O’Neil. “That’s a move this board could take if we didn’t think the move was good. So it’s not a done deal. I know you pretty much said the move is happening, but it’s still not a done deal.”

The city purchased the unit where the administration offices are currently located for $1.7 million in July 2010. The city financed the project via a 20-year bond, and is obligated to continue to pay the annual debt service until year 10 and then the bond can be paid off, in 2021.

The school district annually reimburses the city a share of the bond debt and a share of insurance.

Officials project the school district will save approximately $100,000 per year if the administrative offices are moved to West High.

“The move to West is part of that strategy,” said Vargas. “You will use less space, and you should not be spending money on space you don’t need.”

Aldermen took a vote reaffirming their support of the planned relocation of the SAU offices, with only O’Neil and Alderman At Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur opposed.

Vargas also addressed a topic frequently brought up during budget season — the possibility of closing a school.

“The needs of the district would not be well served by following that approach,” said Vargas. “I have looked at the discussions about closing a school and have not found a single discussion that would support that. I do believe that the strategy of the district should be to better utilize the space that we have. At the end of the day, we have a good district with a lot of good programs, but we have to aim for improvements to attract more families and retain the existing families.”

pfeely@unionleader.com


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