STRATHAM — The Cooperative Middle School Building Renewal Committee is gathering information about how much a scaled-down addition to the school would cost.
Committee members have said they would like to bring forward a proposal in the $15 million to $18 million range, as opposed to the $23 million cost that voters rejected in March.
CMS Building Renewal Committee Co-Chair Lucy Cushman broached the idea of adding 10 classrooms, expanding the cafeteria, and adding a second elevator, as a compromise to the twice-failed proposal to expand the school.
“We are prioritizing and we’re trying to stay as far under $20 million as we can get,” Cushman said. “The closer to $15 million we can get, the better chance we have to get it passed. We would love to get down as much as we can.”
The committee discussed the idea at their June 7 meeting and asked Harvey Construction, the project manager, to put together a cost estimate before their June 20 meeting.
A $23 million proposed addition to CMS failed for a second year to gain the 60 percent majority for a bond to pass during annual voting in March. The proposal garnered a majority vote in five of the six towns that make up the district, with 2,832 votes in favor and 2,419 opposed or a 54.12 percent approval. That proposal included construction of 10 new classrooms, two music rooms, increased cafeteria space, an additional gym, new administrative space, an additional elevator and increased parking.
Since then, the Building Renewal Committee has reconvened and said they heard the voters and will work to bring forward a different proposal. Earlier meetings have included an idea by SAU 16 Director of Facilities Dick Wendell to move sixth-grade students out of CMS and into space at the former Exeter High School, now known as the Tuck Learning Campus. Brentwood resident Liz Faria also requested the committee consider modular units for CMS.
Faria said at last week’s meeting that she would support Cushman’s idea over her modular idea if the price was right. She said she thinks it’s “ridiculous” to spend money on other plans when the district already has architectural drawings that are in line with what Cushman proposed.
A proposal that was similar to Cushman’s idea was estimated at $16.9 million in February of 2018 by Harvey Construction. Wendell wrote to Bill Perkins, the other co-chair of the building committee, that a 7- to 14-percent increase could be possible. Wendell is working with Harvey to obtain a more accurate number prior to the next meeting.
The group questioned how much Wendell’s idea to move the sixth grade to the Tuck Learning Campus would cost, with some predicting it would be over $23 million. CMS Principal Patty Wons pointed out that the renovation cost did not include the associated costs, such as teachers and busing, that would be necessary. Faria said she felt the plan to move sixth grade to the TLC would be cost prohibitive.
Letty Bedard, a Brentwood member of the building committee, inquired about what other facility costs might show up down the road if the scaled-back plan goes forward. Perkins said funds can be set aside in a capital reserve fund to pay for maintenance projects.
Cushman said she suspected the bulk of construction on the scaled-down plan could be done over the summer to minimize disruption. Expanding the cafeteria is a priority, several at the meeting said, pointing to the current schedule in which the first lunch begins at 10 a.m. to accommodate all students.
“We've heard over and over again that the lunch schedule is running this school. It should be the curriculum that runs the school,” Cushman said.
Perkins explained that the cafeteria schedule affects staffing as teachers are needed to supervise students, which takes them away from instructional time. Cushman pointed out that a larger cafeteria, which would allow each grade to have one lunch, would be nice for students who have friends on different teams that otherwise wouldn’t see each other during the day.
Perkins, who handles scheduling for CMS, said he will look at how the school could operate with 10 more classrooms and a larger cafeteria. “There’s going to be a lot more flexibility,” he said, adding. “We really won’t know exactly what that will look like until we’re living in the building.”
Wons pointed out that there are “a lot of upset people” working at CMS at the current time, owing to the space constraints, which have many working off carts or in offices in closets. “It’s not OK,” Wons said.
Some of the library is going to be lost to instructional space when the next school year begins, as the space crunch is requiring school administrators to think outside the box, she said.
Bob Hall, the Kensington representative to the Exeter Region Cooperative School Board, said if Cushman’s idea meets a larger percentage of the building’s operational needs, he felt it wise to concentrate on that, with the hope of seeing it passed.
The CMS Building Renewal Committee is charged with investigating renovation and addition options to address the space needs at CMS and reporting back to the Exeter Region Cooperative School Board this fall with a recommendation. The School Board will ultimately vote on which proposal, if any, to bring back before voters.