The Monadnock Regional School Board voted Tuesday night to move forward with a plan to consolidate Swanzey’s two elementary schools into one, and renovate the district’s three other elementary schools.
The process, which still requires voter approval, would take place over the next four years. Under the plan, which the board approved by a weighted vote of 12.787 to 0.213, Cutler Elementary School in West Swanzey would close, and its students would attend Mount Caesar Elementary School in Swanzey Center, which would receive an addition to accommodate the additional students. Currently, Mount Caesar enrolls students from preschool through second grade, and Cutler serves children from grades three through six.
The plan also calls for Emerson Elementary School in Fitzwilliam, the Gilsum STEAM Academy and Troy Elementary School to be renovated over the next four years.
The district has been working with Kyle Barker, a Concord-based architectural consultant, to develop a range of options for consolidating its elementary schools. District leaders have said previously that consolidating will save money in the long run, especially since older buildings, like Cutler, would require more extensive renovations.
The plan the board approved Tuesday carries an estimated total cost of $23.8 million, but the district hopes to receive about $11.4 million in state funding. Another roughly $14.6 million would come from a bond issue, which taxpayers who live in the district — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — would pay over 20 years.
That state aid is not guaranteed, though, Board Chair Scott Peters of Troy said during Tuesday’s meeting, which drew about 70 participants via Zoom.
“We’ve heard clearly that Kyle [Barker] has confidence, and the state recognizes that some of our schools are some of the oldest in the state,” Peters said. “And so there’s a smile and a nod that our projects are worthy, but it’s a process. We could apply and find ourselves denied, or only receiving partial funding, and then needing to make choices.”
Under the timeline Peters presented Tuesday, the district would apply for state aid in the spring of 2022 and be notified of the state’s decision by that November. From there, the board would seek to put the bond issue on the ballot in March of 2023. If voters approve that potential bond issue, construction on the schools would be scheduled to begin in April 2024 and finish in time for schools to reopen in August of that year.
The plan is the latest in a long-running discussion about consolidating some of the district’s elementary schools. Last December, the board approved a plan to close three elementary schools, build one new school and add on to Mount Caesar.
Under that plan, a new school would have been built to house both Fitzwilliam and Troy students, while the Emerson Elementary School and Troy Elementary School buildings would have closed. Cutler Elementary would be shuttered under this plan, too, and its students sent to an expanded Mount Caesar Elementary. Gilsum STEAM Academy would have remained unchanged under the old plan.
But voters shot down this proposal in March, with more than 65 percent voting against a warrant article that would have appropriated $250,000 for engineering and design work on the consolidation plan the school board had approved.
With the school board’s approval Tuesday night, the plan will move back to voters. The board voted to create a warrant article for next spring’s deliberative session to move forward with the plan to consolidate the Swanzey elementary schools. The proposed warrant article would appropriate $300,000 for the engineering and design work for the plan, which would allow the district to apply for state funding for the project.