Following middle school price estimates, Concord’s city leaders encourage school district to improve community access to schools

Concord School Board President Pamela Walsh and Mayor Byron Champlin at the first joint school-city meeting in several years on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Concord School Board President Pamela Walsh and Mayor Byron Champlin at the first joint school-city meeting in several years on Friday, June 7, 2024. JEREMY MARGOLIS—Monitor staff

By JEREMY MARGOLIS

Monitor staff

Published: 06-10-2024 9:00 AM

A day after Concord’s School Board unveiled long-awaited cost estimates for its middle school project, city leaders encouraged the school board to ensure and communicate that the school buildings are shared community assets.

“Taxpayers are saying, ‘Great, I’m going to build another building that I’ll never go in,’” City Councilor Nathan Fennessy said Friday. “And that’s the perception you’re dealing with, whether it’s reality or not.”

Fennessy’s and his fellow leaders’ comments came at a joint city-school meeting, the first held since 2020 following a multi-year hiatus. The meeting was coincidentally scheduled for hours after the school board’s architecture firm presented options for the middle school project which would cap it at between $136 million and $166 million.

Fennessy said he plays basketball in a school gym in a nearby town twice per week.

“That is not something that happens in our city,” Fennessy said. “And I have had certainly many people who have said to me, ‘Look, we spent all this money on these schools and I've never been in one, because there isn’t that same opportunity.’”

Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said that needs to change.

“We need to reinforce the notion that this is a community school and we’re trying to make sure that we have great access for the community to use that facility as well as the areas around the building,” Murphy said.

School board President Pamela Walsh acknowledged the school board is in the process of updating its facility policy after one attendee of a state Republican party convention held at the high school in April brought a gun into the building. 

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Both the projected price tag and the location of the middle school project – at the Broken Ground site – have generated significant criticism from some community members. An estimate of the tax impact of the project presented Thursday showed that, without state aid, it could increase taxes on a $350,000 home by as much as $732 in the first year. The school board has said it won’t make a decision on whether to move forward on the project until it knows whether it will receive state aid, which will not occur until next summer.

Future renovations to Memorial Field were also discussed at Friday’s meeting. In February, the city presented plans to replace the track and expand a field there, but a start date hasn’t been set. Both city and school board representatives expressed the importance of coordinating the renovations with the middle school project to ensure there is not a prolonged dearth of field options in the city.

Also present at the meeting for the first time were representatives from the Merrimack Valley School District. The group plans to resume a bi-annual meeting cadence, with the next meeting occurring in the fall, Walsh said.

Jeremy Margolis can be contacted at jmargolis@cmonitor.com.