January 10, 2005, 8:30 P.M.
A Civil Discourse: As many of us involved on the School Building committee have predicted, there is a lot of discussion about the plans for reconstructing our school facilities. In general, this discussion is good, as long as it remains fact-based and civil. Unfortunately, much of what I am hearing from opponents to the projects is not accurate.
First and foremost, it is inaccurate and misleading to suggest that there has been any sort of rush toward a decision regarding the school projects or that options have not been thoroughly vetted. I have been personally involved in the process since 1997 and I know how many public forums and meetings have been held since that time. The process has been open and inclusive, however, many of the current critics chose not to participate. It seems that there are always people who never stand for something and can only voice their opinion against things. Thatís okay, but to suggest that there has not been ample opportunity to raise issues and concerns is disingenuous.
I have not always agreed with all aspects of the current plan and have said as much in an article in this newspaper. However, I have been convinced of the merits of the proposed use of the Parade Road site for at least a high school by participating in the process. To say now that the renovation of the high school or the middle school is a reasonable or viable option ignores data that relates back to the original facility study which forms the basis of the school districtís Capital Improvements Plan. The cost of renovation of those structures would be prohibitive and would leave the schools inadequate for the delivery of a modern curriculum. This is not news to anyone who has been paying attention. Not only is that determination based soundly in an assessment of the structures themselves, but in the work of several community committees established to assess this very issue. The data relied on in reaching this conclusion is not secret. It can be readily obtained in the form of the facility study and the reports of the original Middle/High School steering committees.
The Laconia school district facilities plan is rooted in the needs assessment, known as the City Wide Facilities Plan. Based on that plan, the school district developed and implemented a successful model for the renovation and expansion of the cityís elementary schools and the replacement of the middle and high schools. Two former committees made well-researched, practical and cost-effective recommendations to the school board for the replacement of the middle and high school facilities on their current sites. These recommendations were incorporated into the districtís CIP plan that was submitted to the city. The current committee has reached a new consensus and plans a new proposal to the City Council later this month. Apparently, Councilor Krahulec opposes this plan and has indicated the she feels that the matter needs more study. That is unfortunate as she was a member of the committee and chose to only marginally participate. It is also unfortunate that she has chosen to disseminate misinformation about the cost of the schools by suggesting that such items as furniture and technology were not included in the price, a fact that she knows to be inaccurate. The estimates for all of the school districtís projects have always been complete, starting with the three elementary school projects that were brought in on time and under budget. The folks working on these plans know what they are doing.
That being said, scrutiny of the ideas currently being explored for the facility needs of the school district is good. To the extent that the assumptions underlying the existing plan are being tested, scrutinized, vetted or challenged, the exercise is healthy. If an idea canít stand scrutiny, itís not a good idea. The caveat here is that there must be a level playing field. Inaccurate information or deliberately misleading information only serves to undermine honest debate and it weakens our city. Letís have a fair fight and avoid the low blows and dirty tricks resorted to in other communities. That way, whatever happens, we can actually say that the best interests of the entire city have been served. I support the construction of new school facilities, whether it is accomplished on the current sites or on another site. Like many opponents of the plan, and I too am a taxpayer. So are many other proponents of the plan.
I am not optimistic that this debate is going to remain on the high ground. I am hopeful, but all of the signs are pointing in the opposite direction. Before entering the discussion, get informed.
There are those who refuse to recognize the need for new facilities. I encourage them to look at the facility study and to get a tour of the facilities themselves. Seeing is believing. Of course, any building can be renovated, but regardless of how much money you spend restoring a 1975 Pinto, itís still going to be a 1975 Pinto. It would be a shame to spend our hard-earned money and not get the most for our dollars.
What is most important in this discussion is that the city gets what it needs, gets the most for its money, and that it does so in the most economically responsible manner. Construction costs are rising and will continue to rise at a rate of about 5% per year. Interest rates are going up. On a $40 million project, we will spend about $2 million this year just to wait.