The Keene Board of Education is ready to put up several hundred thousand dollars to repair the ailing dam behind Keene High School — but only if someone agrees to take ownership after the repairs are done.
The board voted 6-2 Tuesday night to add $430,000 to the district’s 2020-21 budget to rehabilitate Wilson Pond Dam, contingent upon an agreement with a third party willing to become responsible for the dam moving forward.
If no agreement is made before Jan. 3, the district will instead allocate $225,000 for the dam’s removal. Board members Scott Ansevin-Allen and Dawn Mutuski voted against the motion, while Rebecca Lancaster was absent.
Jim Carley, chairman of the board’s facilities committee, said last year that one side of the dam, which is behind Alumni Field, is failing due to erosion. A 2015 inspection by the N.H. Dam Bureau found that the dam was in “very poor condition” and leaking in several places. There were also cracks in the concrete around the drop inlet, according to the inspection report.
In 2017, it was reclassified by the state from a non-menace structure to a low-hazard structure. This designation means failure or incorrect operation of the dam could result in low-level economic loss to structures or property, as well as damage to roads that could make them impassable.
According to a letter the N.H. Department of Environmental Services sent the school district, the Wilson Pond Dam was reclassified because of its proximity to Arch Street and several structures downstream. Dams classified as low-hazard structures must be inspected every six years, according to N.H. Dam Bureau guidelines.
The board has been working to determine how to address the dam’s deficiencies for about two years, Carley said Tuesday night. The facilities committee brought forward Tuesday’s recommendation after examining cost estimates from studies done by engineering firm DuBois and King and speaking with abutting property owners.
The committee considered whether to remove the dam, rehabilitate it or remove it and build a new one.
“As we’ve talked for quite a while now, what our committee has signed off on is that the Keene Board of Education is not in the dam business,” Carley said Tuesday. “The board of education is in the education and co-curricular business.”
Carley noted that board members have received some feedback advocating against the district spending money to repair the dam. But the committee’s position is that the board has an obligation to the city, the abutters and the students to repair the problems before handing off ownership, he said.
“For everyone’s sake, this gives a little over a couple of months, two months for someone or some entity to step forward, and if they really love the dam, they’ll take it over,” Carley said. “Shy of that, it goes away.”