Capital Improvement Plan Reviewed by Planning Board

During its meeting on Sept. 12 the Planning Board reviewed the town’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP prioritizes and sets a tentative timeline for major capital projects for Londonderry. In most cases, the proposed projects end up on the ballot as questions for voters to approve or reject. Often the funding is a bond, but for smaller projects they can be investments paid for in a single year.

The Planning Board gets recommendations from the CIP Committee and can adjust it before passing it onto the Town Council for their review. This year’s CIP includes six projects, two minor ones for the town and four major ones for the school district.

The CIP process rates projects on a 1-4 scale and recommends a year for each project to be funded within a six-year window. A one rating means the project is urgent for public safety. Two means the project maintains a basic level of public service and should be done within three years. A three rating means that the project is desirable and should be done within the next 4-6 years. A rating of four means that it can be deferred at least six years, although the committee has the discretion to suggest that such projects be done earlier than that.

The town projects include $235K for drainage improvements for the town common and $175K for a new backup generator for the police department. The drainage improvements were rated a two and proposed for FY2020 and the backup generator was rated a one and placed in FY 2020. On the school side, $62M in projects are proposed to improve schools, expand schools and build a new elementary school.

The school projects include improvements and expansion of Moose Hill School ($10.9M, two rating, FY2021); District-wide renovations ($15M, two rating, FY2023); a new elementary school ($26M, three rating, FY2025); and an auditorium ($10M, four rating, FY2024).

Discussion at the meeting focused on the school projects with School District Business Manager Peter Curro making an opening statement and answering questions from the Board. In his opening, Curro explained the distinction between physical capacity as defined what a fire official would say is a building’s capacity and the functional capacity of a building.

Functional capacity considers how the space is used. In past meetings, Curro said that special education programs typically require more space than a standard program. In the Planning Board meeting, he used a cafeteria as an example. Its functional capacity would differ when used for lunch versus hosting as play or musical performance.

He shared that there was some uncertainty in the requests because the district is waiting for a facilities study committee looking at enrollment and program needs to finish their work in October. For now, the requests represent a worst-case scenario from a cost point of view and the project list could be revised after the facilities study committee reports out.

According to Curro, the most pressing need is to expand capacity for kindergarten students with Moose Hill School being at capacity. He went on to note that the elementary schools are nearing capacity with North School closest to being full and South School not far behind. Matthew Thornton has some additional capacity at this point with 531 students now and a total functional capacity of 638. Curro added that in addition to these proposed projects the school district would also consider redistricting as a part of the solution.

The district-wide renovations include classroom upgrades across several schools and an upgrade to the core facilities at the middle school. In the past, the middle school classrooms were upgraded, but areas like the cafeteria, gym, library and multi-purpose room were untouched.

Board Member Mary Wing Soares tried to make a case for increasing the priority of the 800-seat auditorium project from a four to a three, contending that increasing the priority would make it easier to privately raise money for a shared privately/ publicly funded approach. On a 6-2 vote, the Board rejected her proposal citing the higher importance of the other projects. Overall, the Board made no changes to the CIP plan.

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