A Londonderry taxpayer called into question the School Board’s decision to start the process of planning for a new auditorium at Londonderry High School.
“My question is related to how we came to the conclusion that if we had $9 million to spend, that an auditorium is the best investment for increasing the student body’s achievement,” John Wilson of 3 Tranquil Drive said at the Board’s Oct. 22 meeting. “I’m trying to understand what our choices were in capital expenditure that lost.”
Member Steve Young reminded Wilson the School Board, as of yet, has only approved sending a warrant article to the voters for $500,000 to fund architecture and engineering for the project.
Superintendent Nate Greenberg explained the School District began seriously considering the need for an auditorium following a visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), which recommended the addition.
A committee tasked with investigating the potential value of building an auditorium at the high school determined the investment would offer extensive benefits and opportunities to performing groups and the community, as well as provide academic opportunities, such as the chance for students to get accustomed to learning in a large lecture-hall setting before going off to college, according to Greenberg.
“We have over one-third of the student body participating in the Music Department and a large number of students in drama. Many other educational programs would be enhanced as well,” Greenberg said. “I couldn’t tell you right now it would improve SAT scores by five points, but I think it would definitely improve opportunities for students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.”
Wilson said while he could appreciate the appa-rent enhancements Green-berg described, his question is directed more toward what other ways the District could spend that money to increase student achievement.
“The worst thing you can do in business is have an investment opportunity in front of you and go down that road without asking for choices,” he said. “The danger lies in making a decision without choices. Having multiple choices takes out the emotion of the decision.”
But Tony DeFrancesco, who chairs the Community Auditorium Committee, thinks an auditorium is the “right next step” for the School District, as he told the Budget Committee at its Oct. 23 meeting.
“In 1976 when the high school was proposed, an auditorium and swimming pool were cut from the plan with an understanding that it’s an incomplete school and the auditorium would be added on later,” he said. “Roll to 2014 and we still don’t have an auditorium. This project has been on the Capital Improvements Plan since it was invented.”
The school also does not have a swimming pool.
Going back 20 years, NEASC recommended the addition of an auditorium. NEASC made the recommendation again five years ago, Greenberg said. “Not too long ago we looked at what would be the best physical opportunities for us at the high school and we made a conscious decision not to add the auditorium, but to increase academic space,” he said. “We built up to a second floor, renovated a brand new library, and put in new science labs.”
Greenberg said the District passed a bond to take care of major facility needs, including roofing throughout the District and parking lot improvements at Matthew Thornton Elementary School, thinking that down the road an auditorium would be a prudent addition.
“I feel that the next logical step for us to provide what we would see as a complete program for our kids is an auditorium,” he said.
“As a business decision, this is a next best step for Londonderry,” DeFrancesco agreed.
“You’re thinking of Capital Improvement as brick-and-mortar,” Wilson said. “Investing in technology is a capital expenditure that has never come up in this conversation I think we should be looking at it as an alternative way to spend money. I would suggest 10 to 15 years down the road, when considering what makes a school ideal, technology will trump building an auditorium.”
Chairman Leitha Reilly invited Wilson to join the District’s budget discussions after Thanksgiving.
“We invite you and encourage you to come for those discussions,” Reilly said.
“This is not a budget issue, from my perspective; this is a question of how do we decide how to decide,” Wilson said. “This is a process issue.”