Auditorium, New SAU Approved as Priority 2 Improvements

Two projects of the Londonderry School District are in the Priority 2 classification in the Londonderry Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), while two other potential projects are within the “six-years out” window.

Business Manager Peter Curro presented the current CIP plan at the July 12 School Board meeting, and the board unanimously agreed to recommend it.

The long hoped for auditorium, estimated at $9,500,000, and the replacement of the aging SAU (School Administrative Unit) building, $2,150,000, are both ranked as Priority 2, or “necessary within three years to maintain basic level and quality of community services.”

The other priority levels are Priority 1, urgent, cannot be delayed, needed immediately for health and safety; Priority 3, desirable, needed within four to six years to improve quality or level of services; Priority 4, deferrable, can be placed on hold until after six-year span of current CIP; Priority 5, premature, needs more research, planning and coordination; and Priority 6, inconsistent, contrary to land-use planning or community development goals.

Priority 2 items on the town side include renovating the Central Fire Station, $388,200; Senior Center expansion, $750,000; Conservation, outdoor recreation feasibility and cost analysis, $100,000; Public Works and Engineering, Pettengill Road sewer, $700,000.

The ABCs of the CIP

The CIP plan states in part that a CIP’s aim is to recognize and resolve deficiencies in existing public facilities and anticipate and plan for future demand for capital facilities. A CIP is “a multi-year schedule that lays out a series of municipal projects and their associated costs” and is an advisory document, according to the introduction.

A CIP is a guide for the Town Council, School Board and Budget Committee for their annual budgeting process; and with planning, it can stabilize the property tax rate, “aid the prioritization, coordination and sequencing of various municipal improvements”; inform residents, business owners and developers of planned improvements; and provide the necessary legal basis for ongoing administration and updates of the Growth Management Ordinance.

A Capital Project is defined as a tangible project or asset costing at least $100,000 and having a useful life of at least five years, according to the document. A capital project could be a new building or addition, land purchases, studies, substantial road improvement or purchase of major vehicles and equipment.

The CIP does not encompass operating expenses for personnel or other general municipal costs, and maintenance and repair are not generally included unless the cost or scope of the project is substantial.

The build-out analysis was part of the 2013 Comprehensive Master Plan and considered population growth according to two scenarios: Trend Development, which assumed existing zoning conditions would extend into the future, and Villages and Corridors, which assumed increased density and development within identified growth centers.

Trend Development supports a population of 30,786 and a labor force of 27,510 at build-out. This is an increase of 28 percent and 104 percent respectively over current conditions. The scenario continues to use low density, single-use development patterns to meet future demand, meaning that rural areas will become residential or strip developments.

Villages and Corridors supports a population of 37,850 and a labor force of 55,380 at build-out, an increase of 57 percent and 311 percent respectively over current conditions. The scenario introduces the concept of mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods and activity centers.

Curro said the CIP is put together by a CIP Committee, including one School Board member/ alternate, Town Council representatives, and Planning Board and Budget Committee representatives. They are a subcommittee of the Planning Board and work on a six-year plan for the school and town, he said. The CIP is presented to the Planning Board, which holds one public hearing, after which it votes at a subsequent meeting whether or not to adopt it.

“The purpose is twofold,” Curro said. “It is to lay out to taxpayers what the town leaders feel they need, and it is also a tool used for implementing the growth ordinance.”

Planning for the future

The auditorium and new SAU quarters have been on the plan for a while, Curro said. The auditorium was defeated in a town vote two years ago, and “it’s up to the board to decide if they want to try again.”

As far as the district office is concerned, he said the staff has been told by professional contractors that any money they put into the building is a waste.

There are two other projects on the radar, Curro said, noting, “With the projected growth, we have the option of building a 500-student elementary school.”

The other item on the far horizon may be remodeling the middle school. It was remodeled in 2001, with the old gym made into classrooms and a new gym built. But that left the “core facilities” of library, cafeteria, nurses’ office and other areas unaltered.

“The core facility was originally for 1,000 students,” he said. “They were not addressed, and the middle school has almost doubled.”

The bright news is that the district just paid the last installment on the middle school bond. The last payment on the high school bond will be in 2023; South Elementary School two years later; and North Elementary School two years after that, so some money may be liquid for new projects.

Board member Dan Lekas questioned whether the district should be looking at an auditorium at all, after voters rejected it. “The people said no,” he observed.

But the need hasn’t gone away, Curro countered. And historically, he said, “It’s rare that a bond passes the first time.”

Chairman Nancy Hendricks reminded the board that an auditorium was also the recommendation of the last accreditation committee.

Vice-Chair Leitha Reilly, also a Planning Board member, questioned the projected growth. It’s not what she hears on the Planning Board, she observed, and when she was first on the board there was talk of closing a school.

There was, Curro agreed. But in a recent presentation with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Director John Vogl, they saw a town that is expanding.

“In two years, there have been a number of multifamily units built,” he said. And anecdotally, “Every day we have someone registering for school.”

The situation, he said, has “flipped” over two years.

There are three options for dealing with the SAU building, Curro said. One is to build a new SAU on the Moose Hill property. But if a new school is needed, the land may be required for that. The second is to move the roof line of the Town Hall, “so it looks like one building,” and the third is to purchase land and build there.

“At some point you will need to do something,” Curro told the board.

The board voted 5-0 to recommend the CIP for FY 18-23.

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