SAU No. 5
Superintendent James Morse
36 Coe Drive
Durham, NH 03824
For Immediate Release
Friday, Aug. 31, 2018
Media Contact: John Guilfoil
Email: [email protected]
Op-Ed: Oyster River Moves Toward a New Middle School
The following is an opinion piece written by Thomas Newkirk, Chair of the Oyster River Cooperative School Board.
The Oyster River Cooperative School Board has voted unanimously to develop a plan for a new middle school, which we will put before voters in the district. Drawing on almost four years of study, we have concluded that the current middle school has such serious deficiencies that renovation or tinkering with the current building are not viable options.
The current facility is a sprawling set of older buildings and additions that cover the equivalent of three football fields. These additions often “join” up in half floors, requiring lifts, which make any handicapped navigation extremely difficult. Many of the classrooms were designed for elementary school students, and almost half are smaller than the recommended size, as are the music, art, and physical education space. Special education space is mostly makeshift, frequently undersized, and lacking sunlight.
Some of these deficiencies have been glaringly evident during the recent heat wave. The lack of air-conditioning, combined with the westward orientation of many classrooms, can make the school a furnace on hot days.
The current building is poorly suited to the team concept of a middle school. There is also a lack of informal gathering spaces and smaller conference rooms. We have come a long way from school buildings that were simply classrooms, offices, cafeteria, and a gym. The current building also fails to support the robust music and performing arts programs at the middle school.
Simply maintaining the current building is not a cost-free option. A recent report by Siemens Engineer identified almost $6 million in needed upgrades to the heating, ventilation, and mechanical systems. The Siemens representative actually recommended against such an expenditure in an aging and outdated building.
During the 2017-2018 school year, the Board established a Middle School Facilities Committee to evaluate the current building and make recommendations to the Board. The committee was composed of architects, citizens, builders, members of local government, and representatives from the administration and school board. This committee reviewed previous reports and evaluated 13 options, including renovation, shifting middle school students to the other schools (e.g. creating a five to 12 middle/high school), and building a new facility.
The Committee unanimously voted to recommend building a new middle school, with the majority favoring building on-site, though with some support for building off-site.
The Board is moving ahead to select a building site manager and an architect to help us develop a plan to put up for a vote by the community, which we anticipate in March 2020. This decision date will roughly coincide with the retirement of the $25 million bond for the high school renovation.
As a Board we appreciate the financial and emotional effects of this decision. The current building holds history and memories, and the district has worked hard to keep it functional. But as with an old car that has served you well, you reach a point where you decide the next repair is not really justified. We are at that point with the current building. Our district—and those around us—have also learned the hard lesson that delay usually means paying more for less in the future.
We look forward to extensive community discussions about what a new middle school can be. There are exciting possibilities for energy efficiencies, new learning environments, better performing space, and better use of the school site. It’s time to move forward.