April 12, 2005, 3:35 P.M.
The Laconia School
District and the Laconia City Council serve two separate and distinct functions. Nowhere are those functions more evident than in the current discussions about upgrading Laconia school facilities.
It is the responsibility of the Laconia School Board, the governing body of the Laconia School District, to make recommendations to the City Council regarding school funding and the maintenance and operation of school facilities. The Laconia School District is entrusted, by law, with the stewardship of school buildings and property. The school district is also empowered, by law, to determine how money allocated in its budget is spent. The purpose of the City Council in this process is to provide funding and, where appropriate, to bond funds for long term capital projects.
Over the past seven years, the Laconia School District has been developing, implementing and refining its comprehensive facilities maintenance and upgrade projects. This process has been going on, out in the open with the input and participation of interested individuals from the community, the schools and from past city councils. To suggest that this process has been anything but open and transparent belies the facts.
Likewise, to suggest that the current building committee, which recommended the construction of a new school at the Parade Road site and the construction of a middle school at the High School site, came to the table with preconceived notions is entirely inaccurate. I have been a member of the various committees and subcommittees appointed by the school board, both as a citizen member and as a school board member, since 1997. I for one did not come to the current committee with any preconceived notions. In fact, I came to the committee supporting the previous committee’s recommendation that both schools be reconstructed on their current sites. The previous committee’s recommendation was due in no small part to the fact that the McIntyre property was not available at the time that the original committee met and because there was no other viable property in the City that presented as favorable an opportunity as the McIntyre property presents. Through the input of community members and through the open, honest dialogue and discourse that took place during the course of those meetings, I was convinced that Option 5, which preserved the existence of a school “in town” and presented a favorable site for a high school, complete with the necessary fields, parking and room for expansion, at the McIntyre site was an ideal solution to the school district’s current problems.
That brings me to the school’s current problems. Both of the existing school buildings have far outlived their useful lives. The suggestion bantered about in the press that a simple repair or renovation would serve our community’s needs for either of these schools is simply uninformed and agenda-driven.
It is the responsibility of the city council to decide if it is going to accept the recommendation of the school district or if it is going to reject it. If there is to be a referendum on this issue, it should be a fair referendum with true and accurate information presented regarding available options. The truth be known, there is no viable option for the renovation of either the middle school or the high school due to the exorbitant cost and attendant programmatic compromises. The amount of money that it would take to renovate and structurally enhance the Memorial Middle School would be wasteful. Likewise, an attempt at renovating the oldest portions of Laconia High School into useful middle school space would be cost-prohibitive. My opinions in this regard are based on a long history with these buildings, and from working with architects, engineers and professionals, in looking at workable solutions for the district’s needs, and based on my own experience. Unfortunately, I have heard completely unsubstantiated, unfounded opinions to the contrary. If we are to have a referendum on this issue, it should be based in fact, and not fiction.
I am not concerned about a referendum on this issue because I don’t feel there is support for my position, quite the contrary. I am concerned that voters not be mislead and that they understand that the people that they elected to the Laconia School Board have thus far done what they were elected to do. A small group of vocal individuals has managed to deflect the current council, a majority of which is predisposed to be deflected, from their responsibility in addressing this issue straight up. The result will be a cost to the taxpayers of the City of Laconia estimated by some to be in excess of $3 million for each year delayed in accomplishing these projects. Even if renovations were technically and economically feasible with the current structures, the costs of those restorations will surely escalate dramatically as a result of this delay as well.
Opponents to the school district’s proposal have done nothing more than postpone resolution of our school district’s facilities needs. We are faced with a situation where the tail is wagging the dog on this issue, unless we, the voters, make our wishes known in November.
April 12, 2005, 3:30 P.M.
You may have noticed that the site has not been updated for a couple of weeks. I'm in the middle of a jury trial, and my family is preparing to move into a new house. Both good, certainly exciting, but the situation doesn't leave as much room for writing as I'd like. I expect to return to a more normal routine by the beginning of May.