MANCHESTER, NH – On Monday night, Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. Jenn Gillis reported to the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) that the Boston-based architectural firm SMMA has provided a revised lower estimate for its services to help design a plan for the expected renovation of Manchester’s public schools.
Last month, SMMA put in a winning bid of $1.9 million for a set of ten tasks related to planning for the district’s facilities plan, also known as the 3-4-12 after Gillis’ recommendation of retaining newer versions of the city’s three high schools, four middle schools and 12 elementary schools.
After negotiation and discussion, that total was lowered to $1.6 million and split into two phases. The first phase now focuses on the four schools assumed in most urgent need of renovation: Henry Wilson Elementary School, Hillside Middle School, McLaughlin Middle School and one of the high schools. All other schools are now within a second phase.
The first phase will cost an estimated $630,000. Gillis told the BOSC that money within the general fund to pay for the $630,000 had been found in overages of line items in the technology sections of the district’s general fund.
SMMA representative Lorraine Finnegan was in attendance at Monday’s meeting and Gillis said she would be expected in attendance at BOSC Finance and Facilities Committee meetings in April, May and June as the plan begins to develop.
Ward 7 BOSC Member Chris Potter expressed concern with the $1.6 million figure. While he did not use their name directly, he inferred that runner-up bid Lavallee-Brensinger put in a total bid close to SMMA’s figure for just what is now the first phase, noting that funding is limited for other key needs related to the district’s equity goals. Adding that the preferred route would be the reopen the selection process for an architectural firm.
“We can’t just throw around an extra million here and there,” he said.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig challenged Potter’s assertion, noting that she supported Lavallee Brensinger during the selection process, but it was now time to respect the will of the majority on the board and help SMMA improve the district’s buildings.
“This is a really exciting opportunity and we all need to move forward,” she said.
At-Large BOSC member Peter Argeropoulos also expressed excitement with the possibility that new energy-saving green enhancements to the city’s public schools could eventually pay for themselves.
At-Large BOSC member Jim O’Connell also cautioned that the district is still early in the process, echoing sentiments from Gillis that any decisions will be made transparently.
“I hope it’s clear that there’s been no decision to take any action (closing or building a school),” he said. “When we say ‘build here,’ we mean building a plan.”
The request for the $630,000 was approved on a voice vote.