Manager's residence

The future of the VA manager’s residence in Manchester remains undecided.

Members of the city’s Heritage Commission are continuing efforts to save the manager’s residence building at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center from being demolished as part of a planned expansion of services at the site.

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In 2018, the VA endorsed a Vision 2025 plan to upgrade veterans’ health care in the state. It calls for the Manchester VA to host specialty health services for veterans such as mental health, radiology, pain care, addiction treatment and amputation care.

According to Aurore Eaton, the manager’s residence building doesn’t stand in the way of planned construction projects, and could potentially be saved, rehabbed and used to benefit veterans through a type of public/private partnership.

In 2018 the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance included the structure on its Seven to Save list, saying the 2,000-square-foot home is a rare example of the Prairie Style of architecture that originated in Chicago and is associated with renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Alliance urged U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials to consider alternative uses for the structure, which has been vacant for years.

In a letter to the Heritage Commission dated May 6, Manchester VA Director Alfred Montoya Jr. says the VA is planning to proceed with its plans for demolition of the structure.

“The Manchester VAMC has determined that reuse of Building 2 (Manager’s Residence) is not feasible because it does not fulfill agency program requirements,” writes Montoya.

On June 19, Heritage Commission members sent a letter advocating for the consideration of other options to re-purpose the building to serve veterans and their families.

“As there appears to be no pressing need to demolish Building 2, the Manchester Heritage Commission kindly requests that you consider other potential solutions for sparing and reusing the structure,” writes Kevin A. McCue, Heritage Commission chairman. “One option that may be suggested is to simply continue to ‘mothball’ the building. This would allow for potentially incorporating it into the design of a future expansion project that would meet the long-term needs of the Manchester VA Medical Center.”

McCue writes that commission members have heard the VA is considering building a women’s health clinic on the campus, and suggests the manager’s residence could be incorporated into the design of that building.

“This would be an outstanding solution and a win/win situation for the VA and the City of Manchester that would generate a great deal of positive attention and good will,” writes McCue.

S.A.F.E. app

Last week, city school board members took a vote mandating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) be signed by Ping4 Inc. before the Manchester school district will utilize Ping4’s S.A.F.E. app.

The app, available for free on Google Play and in the Apple App Store, is described as a system “to alert parents, staff and non-first responders during an emergency and efficiently notify them of current incident and safety information.”

In May of 2018, the school board approved the district moving ahead with implementing the S.A.F.E. app, conditional upon the removal of a promotional video featuring Manchester Central High School students without the approval of school officials.

The video was removed from the S.A.F.E. and Ping4 websites.

School officials also expressed concerns the company solicited donations from community members who in the past have supported school district causes.

In a proposed memorandum of understanding, school officials asked Ping4 to adhere to strict information privacy guidelines, while prohibiting the company from using the Manchester School District in any marketing materials and soliciting funds from third-party donors without the district’s approval.

At -large board member Rich Girard disagreed with language prohibiting Ping4 from promoting the fact the app is used in the Queen City.

“It’s absolutely crazy to say ‘we use your stuff, but you can’t tell anybody,’ ” said Girard.

School board members voted down a motion to reject requiring the MOU, 10-4, with only Lisa Freeman, Ross Terrio, Jimmy Lehoux and Girard voting in favor of the motion. Ward 12 member Kelly Thomas was absent for last week’s meeting.

Late last week, Mayor Joyce Craig reiterated her support for the MOU.

“In working to implement the S.A.F.E. app in the Manchester School District, the district and the city became aware of issues that made them believe a memorandum of understanding with Ping 4 was in our best interest,” said Craig. “The school district requested assistance of the city solicitor’s office to develop the MOU, which was emailed for signing in March. At last week’s BOSC (Board of School Committee) meeting, the board voted to move forward with the MOU. To date, the District has not received a signed MOU from Ping4. I am confident we will be able to implement the S.A.F.E. app soon after a signed memorandum of understanding is in place.”

Performance gaps

City schools should consider developing a “workforce diversity plan,” hiring more staff members of color who can relate to Manchester’s diverse population of students, and consider changing how it disciplines youth.

Those are the preliminary findings of the Manchester Equity Review Team, a group tasked with improving equity in public schools in the Queen City. Team members presented the findings to the full school board last week. The team’s final report is expected later this year.

The Equity Review Team (ERT) — funded by the Nellie Mae Foundation and working with Plymouth State University — began looking at the performance gap between white students and students of color, collecting data from community members, families, and staff to develop recommendations on ways to close the gap.

Over the last 10 years, Manchester has experienced a decline in state aid, while the percentage of Latino students, students on free and reduced lunch, and English language learners (ELLs) have nearly doubled.

The study kicked off in the summer of 2018, and since then 524 students, district staff and community members participated in forums offering viewpoints and solutions to improve outcomes for students without a native knowledge of English.

Among the ERT’s preliminary findings are recommendations the district develop a “workforce diversity plan” aimed at recruiting staff members of color who can relate to the languages and cultures of students and families in Manchester.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.

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