MANCHESTER, NH – On Monday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee approved a location proposal for a new Beech Street Elementary School as well as a related concept for a new high school.
⇒ Click here to go to the meeting packet including the full presentation/proposal by SMMA.
Representatives from SMMA, the architectural firm providing recommendations to the Manchester School District on their Facilities Plan, provided the pair of updated recommendations on Monday night.
The first came regarding the proposal to build a brand-new Beech Street Elementary School across Beech Street from its current location on the east parcel of Sheridan-Emmett Park, which is currently owned by the city.
Wilson Elementary School, whose student body was originally intended to be split between Beech Street and McDonough Elementary Schools, with upgrades to both schools, would instead see all of its students head to the nearby Beech Street Elementary.
SMMA representatives said that the concept would incorporate next-generation learning environments and came in part to concerns from residents in the Center City that feared the impact after losing Wilson.
“Students are going to get to play a role in the new school, because the building is going to belong to them,” said SMMA Educational Planner Phil Poinelli.
The school is expected to house 734 students, with Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. Jenn Chmiel Gillis saying that the school would be internally clustered to create “schools within the school” to retain a comparable size of other elementary schools elsewhere in the city.
This recommendation came due, in part, to the second updated recommendation, which would put a new combined academic and career/technical education (CTE) school at the current footprint of Beech Street School and slightly beyond it.
A pair of options in the new high school recommendations either work with the current JFK Coliseum ice rink or would create a new ice rink just north of the new school.
The new high school could hold up to 2,000 students.
Other components within the district’s facilities plan were also part of the new update.
Within the proposed master plan, this new high school would join the Manchester Memorial/Manchester School of Technology campus and a School for the Arts, with no indication on the location of the proposed School for the Arts.
Ward 10 BOSC Member Gary Hamer asked if this meant if Manchester West was closing as he was told there would likely be no comprehensive high school built on the West Side. He was told that there would not be a new school, but West is not closing. Hamer still voiced concerns given that 25 percent of students live on the West Side.
“I think it’s very important that there be a comprehensive high school on the West Side,” said Hamer. “We’re setting ourselves up for failure if we’re going to build a large comprehensive high school in another part of the city and think we can transport students to that location.”
He later thanked SMMA for their information, but also asked about costs to renovate Manchester Central and West High Schools. SMMA Consultant Relations Managing Director Lorraine Finnegan said that estimates are still being investigated at this time.
If approved, Finnegan advised that the new Beech Street Elementary would be complete by January 2027 and the new high school would be complete by January 2030. Finnegan referred to the various construction at the site as a “jigsaw puzzle,” with the overall updates from across the city complete by 2043.
According to Finnegan, costs for Beech Street as well as middle school renovations elsewhere in the city and temporary classrooms would cost somewhere between $292 and $306 million. Finnegan also noted that the new high school would likely cost between $353 and $378 million and that after discussions with Manchester School District Chief Financial Officer Karen DeFrancis, there would be no impact to the city’s tax rate thanks to existing adequacy aid from the state and the district’s current bonding capacity.
Ward 6 BOSC Member Ken Tassey Jr. asked how much the amount would be for both portions of this phase of the facilities plan, with estimates including interest potentially going over $1 billion.
In total, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, Ward 1 BOSC Member Julie Turner, Ward 2 BOSC Member Dr. Sean Parr, Ward 3 BOSC Member Karen Soule Ward 4 BOSC Member Leslie Want, Ward 5 BOSC Member Jason Bonilla, Ward 7 BOSC Member Chris Potter, Ward 11 BOSC Member Dr. Nicole Leapley, Ward 12 BOSC Member Carlos Gonzalez At-Large BOSC Member Peter Argeropoulos and At-Large BOSC Member Jim O’Connell expressed their approval with the proposal. O’Connell elaborated that the new school would greatly support underrepresented populations living nearby. O’Connell also noted that the school size comes in part to the closure of elementary schools, fitting into Gillis’ recommendation that the district have three high schools, four middle schools and 12 elementary schools.
“I find it difficult to contain my excitement that the people of Manchester are seeing that we are in the business of giving (students) the space that they need and we are investing in education,” said O’Connell.
Leapley expressed gratitude that Wilson students would not have to go to McDonough, which is slightly further away, although she expressed concern regarding added transportation costs for students from elsewhere in the city. Finnegan said that transportation costs were not placed into the proposed costs, but that the city would eventually save money thanks to structural efficiencies within the new schools compared to the old ones where students are coming from.
Potter also added on Leapley’s comments expressing the need for some sort of bridge due to the traffic in the area and he did build on Hamer’s comments expressing concerns over the need for a high school on the West Side.
Want called parts of the proposal a “win, win, win” but also expressed concerns about the lack of a high school on the West Side, stating that removing a high school from the area would impact the district’s dedication to student equity. Bonilla had similar concerns and praise, thanking SMMA’s focus on the Center City and asking them to remember the West Side.
There were also concerns voiced by Potter and Turner regarding the impact of fifth-grade students during renovations at the middle schools.
Craig reiterated that proposals on the high school are preliminary and noted that Gillis will go out to the community for feedback. She also praised the proposal, adding that it’s important to relocate green space and basketball courts nearby, the parking is adequate, and that biofabrication at the new high school is important.
The proposal, as well as other components within the district’s facilities plan (see below), were approved by a unanimous voice vote.
Gillis was pleased with the board’s vote.
“I would like to thank the Board of School Committee for its ongoing support of this project tonight,” she said. “We are excited by the building momentum to improve our educational facilities for generations to come. We are eager for our next step, seeking final approval from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”
Approval for use of the land owned by the city would require approval from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.