Friday night’s School District Deliberative Session saw an effort to decrease funding for Article 9, architectural and engineering professional services for a proposed community auditorium at the high school. The School District proposes via Article 9 to appropriate $500,000 to complete the study.
“The concept of an auditorium is not new for Londonderry,” Auditorium Study Committee Chairman Tony DeFrancesco said. “It was removed from the original plan for the high school, with the idea of completing it later.”
DeFrancesco noted his Committee was charged with exploring the construction of an auditorium after the high school received a report from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), a regional accreditation association, saying for the fourth time the community should invest in an auditorium.
“After studying the project, I am resolute this project is the best next step for the Town,” DeFrancesco said. “Londonderry will see a tremendous amount of growth in the near future and without a doubt is uniquely positioned today to support the construction of this building for the community.”
“We have heard there is potential for growth, and development is coming in, but I just think it would be a little smarter to make the money before we spend the money,” said School Board member Dan Lekas, who voted against recommending Article 9 to the voters.
State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry raised concern over the lack of parking at the school during peak traffic times, such as elections and football games.
“The School District is very good with scheduling, and pretty much all buildings are not for rent when there’s a major event,” DeFrancesco said. “The School Board will make the decision of when this building is used or not used. And 60 percent of the auditorium’s use Monday through Friday is curriculum based; so, there will be very little time available for the general public during those hours.”
Also of concern was the investment of $500,000 into the auditorium before voters have had the opportunity to decide whether or not they even want one.
“I’m not against an auditorium, but I think we need to figure out, yes, we want the auditorium; then take the money to put towards architecture and engineering services. I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” said Deb Paul of 118 Hardy Road, who is publisher of the Londonderry Times.
School District Business Administrator Peter Curro and DeFrancesco explained that the purpose of the two-step process – investing in the architecture and engineering services, then bonding the project – is to secure a detailed plan for the auditorium that includes a maximum price.
“It eliminates significant surprises; so, when we get to a vote for the bond, the process has been laid out by architects and engineers with a budget and the bond is a guaranteed maximum price,” Curro said. “The architect and engineer sign on and agree to build this project for a set number so there are no surprises and we know exactly what we’re getting.”
In agreement with Paul, David Ellis of 1 Wilshire Drive proposed amending Article 9 to raise and appropriate $100,000 for architecture and engineering services.
“To budget $100,000 would support enough engineering to tell you how to put in the foundation,” said Budget Committee member Greg Warner, who originally voted against supporting Article 9 but said he is beginning to realize he would probably support architecture and engineering costs for the auditorium. “Speaking to this amendment, $500,000, which is 5 percent of a $10 million dollar project, is an appropriate number to do the engineering studies.”
DeFrancesco noted if proposals to complete the study come in under $500,000, the remaining funds go back to the taxpayer.
“The $500,000 is a placeholder,” he said.
The amendment to raise $100,000 failed and Cherylann Pierce of 23 Mayflower Drive proposed amending Article 9 to raise and appropriate $1 for architecture and engineering services, noting students perform at the Palace Theater in Manchester and have always had opportunities to play in nice venues.
“There are people who are saying kids have always done well without an auditorium, so we don’t need one now. We don’t know how they would have done had there been an auditorium, so it’s silly to project backwards and say they would have done better or worse,” said Dan Gore of 8 Lane Way.
“There are many wants I would like to have, but I don’t because I can’t afford them,” Pierce said. “We can’t afford a $9 million auditorium.”
“I have had many people call me and complain about this. If you have deep pockets, it’s a beautiful thing. But there are people who are struggling,” Baldasaro said. “There are people sitting at the table saying they don’t even know if they can stay in town. I would like to see the town pay off more debt and give people a break. We need an auditorium, I agree; but it was the teacher in the classroom that made the difference for my children, not an auditorium. I think we need to let people vote first if they want this before we throw money it.”
“I do believe for many people this is a want and for others this is a need, and I respect both opinions. I think $500,000 is the right number to do this kind of work and it would be disrespecting the voters to decrease the amount,” said John Conley of 373 Winding Pond Road. “The voters are smart enough to know if they support the architecture and engineering study and it results in a sound proposal, they are voting to support an auditorium.”
“This is the standard throughout the county and has been standard for decades. People in this town need to experience cultural events in an auditorium setting. It’s part of the fiber of culture and education that is the standard throughout the country and the world and should be a standard in Londonderry,” Gore said.
Pierce’s amendment failed, and Article 9 moved to the Warrant as proposed, with a 4-1 vote of favor by the School Board. Article 9 has an estimated tax impact of $.14 per thousand.