SWANZEY — The Monadnock district’s school board is moving forward with a plan that would close three elementary schools, build a new school, and add on to another, according to the district’s superintendent.
The plan was one of a number of options presented last month in a feasibility study of the Monadnock Regional School District’s five elementary schools.
Under this option, a new “south school” would be built to house both Fitzwilliam and Troy students, with the Emerson Elementary School and Troy Elementary School buildings to close. On the northern side of the district, Cutler Elementary School would close in West Swanzey, and its students sent to Mount Caesar School in Swanzey Center, which would consolidate all Swanzey elementary students in one location. An addition would be built to Mount Caesar.
The Gilsum STEAM Academy would remain as is.
Monadnock Superintendent Lisa Witte said the school board’s vote Wednesday will prompt a warrant article to pay for architectural design and engineering for the plan. She said she did not have further information on the vote as she did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. Attempts to reach school board Chairwoman Lisa Steadman and Vice Chairman Scott Peters were unsuccessful.
According to Jeremy Rathbun, director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, the weighted vote was 10.955 in favor, 1.075 against the plan.
Witte cited some of the aging school buildings as a serious concern, particularly with a long-term overhead cost that only continues to grow, requiring more property tax revenue.
“It was right around budget time last year ... we started to talk really seriously about the footprint and what more information do we need ... to make some decisions about what would be fiscally responsible, what would be best for our communities and what would be best for our kids,” she said.
The board hired Kyle Barker, a Concord-based architectural consultant, to conduct a “facilities assessment report” of the five elementary schools.
Barker’s study — which has yet to be made public beyond a YouTube video of his presentation to the board last month — examined the district’s population, facilities, human resource costs and the long-term overhead costs of existing buildings, among other things, according to Witte.
Barker did not return a request for comment Thursday.
The assessment proposed several options, ranging from doing nothing at the schools to having one new elementary school designed for about 1,000 students, to the option the board preferred.
Importantly, the district is seeking to line up for school building aid from the state, which has been in a moratorium for several years but will be available through a competitive process for the 2020 budget cycle, according to Barker’s remarks in the video.
“Right now, before the floodgates open, there’s an opportunity for the district to get in there first,” Barker said of the increased competition Monadnock would face from other school districts in the coming years.
From the plan the board approved for the study, Barker’s recommendation is to close the elementary schools in Swanzey, Troy and Fitzwilliam and replace them with an upgraded facility and a new school, which Witte described as northern and southern hubs for the towns.
For Fitzwilliam and Troy, a new school would be built at a site yet to be determined, to reduce the property tax burden of running two separate schools, Witte said.
In Swanzey, Cutler would close, but the district would seek funding for an addition to be built onto Mount Caesar for all Swanzey elementary students to attend.
In Barker’s presentation, the total cost for that option was nearly $30 million (without state aid), which included the new school, Mount Caesar renovations, as well as renovations to the Gilsum school.
The Monadnock district covers the towns of Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy.
Witte, who arrived at the district five years ago, said there has been an ongoing discussion on how to most efficiently run Monadnock, starting with another report from 2017 by architects at the H.L. Turner Group in Concord.
What sets the Barker report apart from the older one, according to Witte, is his attention to broader data sets such as population, and a deeper look at short-, medium- and long-term costs.
Another key element Witte said the district would like to maintain are the town schools, which she said are key community centers serving many purposes beyond hosting children during the day.
“There’s a huge value in community schools, and communities love their schools for good reason,” Witte said. “They’re not just schools — they tend to be the center of communities for a variety of reasons.”
Costs for conducting Barker’s study were approved at school district meeting last year.
Public information sessions on the report and the warrant article will be held on dates yet to be determined, according to Witte.
“We started to ask ourselves, well, is this the best way to approach maintaining our district?” she said. “Not necessarily maintaining the buildings, but maintaining the district.”