February 28, 2005, 7:35 P.M.
Facts, Fiction and Fantasy: March 1, 2005 is the night when the school districtís current Middle/High building committee will present its plans for addressing building needs to the school board. The committee has spent the last year reviewing the districts needs, options for addressing those needs, and the impact of facilities issues on the community.
It has been interesting and sometimes frustrating to have been involved in that process as a community member and not, as I had with the previous committees, as a school board member. I say frustrating because I often saw the committee re-plowing old ground and revisiting issues that I saw as long ago addressed. In hindsight, however, I am happy that the process has gone the way it has. People who were new to, and perhaps a little skeptical of, the districtís facility plans came to see that the process has been open, informative, logical and reasonable. They also came to see that the needs expressed by their predecessors were real and substantial. Most significantly, however, they came to these conclusions on their own and as a result of a very dynamic process. The individuals who served our city in this process deserve your thanks regardless of what you think of their conclusions.
There will also be an important meeting on March 15, 2005 when the Facilities Committee of the school board will meet to determine its final recommendation between Option 5 and Option 3. Option 5 would see a new combined Middle/High complex constructed on what is known as the McIntyre property bounded by Lane, Parade and Meredith Center roads. Option 3 would see a High School at the McIntyre site and a Middle School to be constructed on the current High School site. The option selected by the Facilities Committee and the Laconia School Board will then be presented to the City Council as part of the Districtís bond request in the current budget year. The district is seeking $3.5 million to complete the planning and design of the high school and to acquire the McIntyre property, which is currently the subject of an option to buy that expires in November.
On February 23, local economist Russ Thibeault spoke on the economic impact of delaying these projects at a forum presented by the Lakes Business Group, a group of interested local business people. Russ Thibeaultís talk at the high school made a lot of sense and certainly supports the position that the sooner these school projects are done the better off we are, as a community, for many reasons. I was disappointed to see that, despite receiving personal invitations, only one city councilor (Councilor Breton) and the mayor showed up for this important presentation. Donít want to confuse them with facts, I guess.
When the peak tax impact of the current plan, either for option 3 or option 5, is calculated, evidence suggests that it will be less than $2.50 per $1,000.00 of assessed valuation in one year. Although this represents a moderate increase given anticipated economic growth, it is still a lot of money; more to some than others. This is an issue that must be addressed, but it does not change the fact that there is a real and demonstrated need to replace our current buildings. It is simply not in the communityís economic best interest to prolong the inevitable. In balancing this need with the impact on certain of our needier fellow Laconians, we need to find a way, perhaps through tax breaks or abatements to the demonstrably needy, to help them while still allowing the community to move forward. If the issue is that some folks truly canít afford the projects, letís help them while still helping ourselves.
This should not be confused with whether or not there is a real need, in an engineering, program and economic sense, for the replacement of our schools. There is. That is simply a fact and the arguments that I have thus far heard to the contrary are simply not fact-based. They are fiction created to deflect discussion away from the real issue, cost. If the cost of the projects is the issue, than that should be the beginning and the end of the debate. Anyone taking an honest look at the facts will be lead to the same conclusion, we need to find a way to pay for these projects and we need to do it now.
I was recently discussing the high school with a friend and fellow building committee member who is in manufacturing. He pointed out recently that OSHA regulations would not permit him to manufacture parts in the existing high school because of the condition of the building and of its systems. The middle school is worse, and we have known it for years. This condition does not exist because the buildings are not well maintained, because they are. This condition exists because the buildings and systems have outlived their design and functional life.
The need to replace or middle and high schools has been well established. The McIntyre property is the one remaining site in Laconia that affords us with good and viable options to build a new school to meet the needs of the city into the future. When the option to purchase that property expires, the property will be gone for development. Gone too will be the opportunity it presents. These are facts. To argue otherwise is fiction. To say that the current structures can continue in service with little more than paint and paper is pure fantasy.