Manchester’s three traditional high schools — Central, West, and Memorial — would be consolidated into one newly constructed building under a plan city officials will discuss this week.
The recommendations, put together by Superintendent of Schools John Goldhardt, also call for expanding Manchester School of Technology by repurposing Memorial High School into a new Manchester Career and Technology School, and renovating most elementary schools over the next decade.
“These recommendations are not intended to be an all-or-nothing plan, nor are they intended to be the final word on the subject,” Goldhardt wrote in a memo to school board members. “This is intended to be a starting point.”
The Manchester Board of School Committee is scheduled to hear the recommendations during a special remote meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Goldhardt is asking school board members to receive his report and schedule public feedback sessions before ultimately making a decision whether to pursue any of the options.
“There is a lot to absorb in these recommendations, and some will undoubtedly be considered controversial,” Goldhardt wrote. “As a community, we’ve long put off making the difficult decisions on our school facilities, putting short-term savings before the long-term good.
“What we’re left with are aging buildings that are costly to operate and are not suitable as a modern educational facility. This hurts not just our students and staff, but our community at large, because our public schools are not the draw that they could be, and should be.”
Once community input sessions are held, a summary of suggestions and concerns will be submitted to the school board ahead of any vote.
If the Board of School Committee accepts the recommendations, or accepts the recommendations with alterations, the accepted plan will have budget numbers and be presented to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
If aldermen support paying for the plan, phase 1 would include purchasing property for the new high school by 2023.
Goldhardt was asked in January to put together a list of facilities recommendations, after several board members raised concerns with a study prepared by MGT Consulting Group. That study recommended closing four elementary schools and one high school, while merging two other high schools to address declining enrollment and more than $150 million in deferred maintenance and other costs.
The average age of school buildings in the Manchester School District is approximately 70 years old, Goldhardt reports, and “only so much can be done to retrofit older buildings to accommodate technology needs for today’s learners.”
According to Goldhardt, demographic data shows enrollment trends in the district will decrease at least 12% over the next 10 years, with the number of families with school-age children in Manchester and statewide decreasing.
Goldhardt writes the purpose behind his recommendations includes making Manchester schools places where students are prepared for the future and where “excellence and equity are fully in place in every classroom, every day for every student.”
According to Goldhardt, the high school graduation rate in Manchester has steadily decreased and is presently the lowest in the state.
He called the current high school graduation requirement of the minimal 20 credits “not acceptable.”
“In fact, after the district lowered the standards for graduation credits, the graduation rate has gone down and not up,” reports Goldhardt.
Among Goldhardt’s recommendations:
•The single high school should be built on a property large enough to accommodate a 3- to 4-four story building, ample parking, football stadium, softball and baseball fields, soccer/lacrosse/field hockey field, practice/physical education field, and possible indoor swimming pool.
The school must also be large enough to accommodate at least 3,500 students. The historical Abe Lincoln statue at Central would be incorporated into the design and be a prominent part of the campus.
The new high school would be headed up by one principal and six assistant principals; each would have the same students for four years:
• Repurpose the current Manchester School of Technology building to be a centralized Manchester Pre-School;
• Repurpose and restore the Central High Practical Arts Building to be a Manchester School of the Arts with an emphasis in theater, musical theater, technical theater, music, dance, and visual arts;
• Repurpose the Central High Classical Building to be used as the district offices, additional learning space for Manchester School of the Arts, and space for Bridge Academy and Manchester Online School;
• West High School would no longer be used for school district purposes;
•All middle schools would operate as magnet schools, which allow kids to hone in on a specific subject, such as the performing arts or engineering. Parkside and Southside would continue as 5-8 middle schools, while Hillside and McLaughlin middle schools would be remodeled and prepared for the 5-8 grade configuration. Fifth-grade students would start attending Hillside and McLaughlin by September 2022.
Goldhardt also recommends renovation work at many of the city’s elementary schools.
“To do something of this scale will require a community lift, but it will benefit our city for generations to come,” writes Goldhardt. “We have no time left to waste — I believe it’s time for us to get to work.”