NASHUA — With a neighborhood petition already in place expressing opposition, several school officials are also raising concerns about a proposed $120 million middle school project.
The project, which is being supported by the Joint Special School Building Committee, includes the construction of a new, three-story middle school in southwest Nashua, as well as renovations and additions at Fairgrounds Middle School and Pennichuck Middle School.
“I have rounded up a petition with over 200 signatures opposing this plan,” said Kristen Ford of 101 Cherrywood Drive, whose property abuts the proposed future site of the new middle school.
She said many neighbors were unfamiliar with the plan, and feel as if their opinions are not being considered.
Paula Johnson, a former Board of Education member who was recently reelected to the board, told the committee that a traffic study must be done before a new school is constructed at the proposed location near Buckmeadow Road and Cherrywood Drive; the 20-acre site is currently owned by the city.
“This is going to be a big pill to swallow again,” Johnson said of the proposed $120 million price-tag. With traffic already congested on West Hollis Street, she said, a traffic study will be necessary to determine how the extra traffic from school buses in the vicinity will impact roadways.
There are still questions that have not been answered, according to Johnson, who said the project could become a “nightmare” if the proposed bond is approved without a thorough vetting.
“This project has been very difficult,” said Doris Hohensee, an outgoing school board member. “We on the board have not gotten answers to our questions. ... This is disturbing.”
Hohensee questioned whether other sites were considered for the new middle school, stressing the 20-acre parcel being proposed is landlocked with no easement in place and no existing roadway to provide access.
Howard Coffman, another outgoing school board member, claimed that the feasibility study did not look at all aspects, alternatives or contingencies, yet some elected officials are ready to commit nearly $120 million for a project on a site that cannot currently be accessed.
“You need to redistrict the school district, and that is not an easy thing to do. That is not even considered in this plan,” said Coffman, adding there is no staffing plan, technology plan or transportation plan for the new building or the renovated buildings.
“I would make the argument that the feasibility study is woefully inadequate and incomplete. I do not object to the idea of a new middle school; I have been supportive of it. The problem that I have is that the feasibility study is not doing its job,” he told the panel recently.
Mark Lee of the Harriman architectural firm explained that the engineers are still working with feasibility studies, adding the conceptual design does not account for every component that will be included in the final layout.
“There are a significant number of steps that we still have to go through before it is final,” said Alderman Richard Dowd, chairman of the committee, stressing a detailed design for the new school is not yet complete.
The design of the new school will likely not be finished until the fall of 2020, said Lee, adding that renovations to the existing middle schools could potentially happen earlier next year.
Dowd said that if all goes well, the access road to the new school property would be constructed first, followed by some tree clearing, which could possibly take place this spring. Negotiations for the access road have been ongoing for months, he added.
“The busing, the redistricting — that is all a factor of work that has to be done before the Board of Education,” said Dowd. “... We are not putting shovels in the ground tomorrow. There is a whole process to follow.”
A bond for the middle school project has not yet been approved by aldermen; it will require 10 votes.
William Mosher, school board member, said earlier that the district should not delay construction of a new middle school. If the district waits to start the project, the costs could increase and there could be a shortage of available labor, he said.