The School Board is considering recommendations detailed in a Facilities Report that addresses the increase in multi-family residential development coming on line in Londonderry.
Recommendations include reaffirming class size guidelines, continuing to implement the District’s Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) and considering the construction of an auditorium at the high school.
School Administrators Association Executive Director Mark Joyce and Facilities Study Committee members also strongly recommended upgrading Wi-Fi access in all schools, which voters funded in the District’s March 8 election, as well as looking for land in town that would be suitable for construction of a new elementary school or expanding Moose Hill to a Kindergarten – Grade 5 elementary school. Moose Hill currently houses the district’s Kindergarten and LEEP – Londonderry Early Education Program – classes.
“To keep options open and realizing you don’t need to do that now, it’s prudent for the school community to look at land within the District that could be acquired and conserved for a new school, or look at the potential to expand Moose Hill,” Joyce said, noting the schools are at near-capacity based on the District’s class size guidelines. “Land available for development is being used up.”
While Londonderry has seen a decline over time in the student population compared with the overall population, just as other communities in the Northeast have, Joyce said the number of births is up, “which may signal a change coming.”
Additionally, the report detailed an increase in the number of building permits issued through the Building Department.
“We realized that more moderate, smaller developments have been built and are occupied, but there’s a 500-unit development that would have a significant impact on enrollment that’s not yet occupied,” Joyce said. “We also did a separate study for Hooksett and Derry, and we see that town planners are feeling growth is beginning to return to pre-2007 size.”
Based on the District’s class size requirements, Joyce told the Board the schools couldn’t absorb a large number of students, noting the Town is “seeing uneven development,” with most of the large, multi-family projects being constructed in the north end of town.
Even if the projects come online slowly, the District should think about how it might redistrict to accommodate an overload of students at one of the schools, according to Joyce.
The facilities report also recommends the District consider a full-day Kindergarten program, which he said “attracts more students to attend and solves the childcare problem that exists.”
“I see dollar signs,” board member Leitha Reilly said. “Clearly, these are things we’ve talked about before, two budget cycles ago and prior to the last budget cycle – what it would take to mothball a school. The District came back with the ugly truth of what that would involve and if enrollment were to increase again, what it would require to take a school out of mothball status.”
Joyce said Londonderry schools could absorb more students if the District assumed State standards for class sizes, adding it “would be poor planning to not try to identify if there’s property” in town for a new school.
The Board additionally discussed the impact the development of Woodmont Commons will have on the District.
Board member Steve Young said if the Town ends up having 500 residential units surrounding Interstate 93, with a number of other students on the other side of I-93 near the Derry town line, “it would be great to have a neighborhood school in that region of the community.”
The Board agreed a great deal of cost analysis would have to be completed as it considers the recommendations detailed in the facilities report.
“Decentralized delivery of services would have a significant impact on the bottom line,” Reilly said of sending LEEP out to the various elementary schools if Moose Hill were converted to a K-5 elementary school. “A lot of cost analysis will have to go into this.”