MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester Special Joint Committee on Education met in a rare meeting on Tuesday to learn more about the recently released Manchester School District facilities plan created by Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt as well as potential next steps for the plan.
In his opening remarks to the joint committee, which contained members of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen and Board of School Committee (BOSC), Goldhardt reiterated key points of the plan, which sought to address the city’s aging school infrastructure and its impact on the district’s budget, educational outcomes, safety and the city’s changing demographic profile.
“I decided I would just go for a bold restart,” said Goldhardt. “I believe it will make a significant difference in regard to our education in Manchester.”
The primary item in the plan is a new proposed high school that would combine the city’s three primary public high schools into one joint school with “academies” for upper classmen where electives would focus on a certain career path. Manchester School of Technology would move to the current site of Manchester Memorial High School, the current site of Manchester School of Technology would host the city’s public preschoolers, Manchester Central High School would become an arts school, and Manchester West High School would become a building for public use purposes outside of education.
The city’s Middle Schools would become magnet schools focusing on a certain elective where parents around the city could enroll their children pending space limitations and several elementary schools would become “dual-language” schools with half of all instruction given in a foreign language with the purpose of making the students fully bilingual by the time they reach high school.
Goldhardt also noted that he seeks to extensively remodel or rebuild several elementary schools in the city that do not meet 21st century learning requirements, noting that he does not feel comfortable sending students to some of the schools such as Green Acres Elementary School given their current safety issues.
Members of the Special Joint Committee were largely supportive of the proposal such as Alderman Barbara Shaw (Ward 9), who referred to herself as a large fan of the proposal.
Shaw believes that significant public input will be needed for the plan, but that the city’s current overarching approach toward education isn’t working and that change is something that can be beneficial.
“I think a vision like this is amazing,” she said. “There are many parts of it that seem ‘pie in the sky’ to some people, but the ideas and reasoning to many of these changes very well support a need.”
BOSC Members Leslie Want (Ward 4) and Peter Perich (Ward 8) referenced their direct and indirect experiences regarding magnet schools in their support of the plan and Alderman Pat Long (Ward 3) said that expected fluctuations in construction costs would make budgetary impacts for the plan irrelevant for the near future.
In response to a question from Alderman Ross Terrio (Ward 7), Goldhardt said that if comparable to other high schools across the U.S., the new proposed high school would cost somewhere between $90 and $180 million, although that could vary depending on where the school would be located.
Goldhardt said he also has several sites in mind, but refused to mention them fearing it would impact the purchasing price for the land.
He also said that elementary school renovations could cost approximately $10 to $20 million in significant cases and new elementary schools can cost $30 to $40 million.
Terrio was probably the most skeptical member of the committee on the plan. He said that traffic difficulties getting between the East and West Sides of the city would be a hinderance for West Side residents given that the high school is likely to be east of the Merrimack River given that there is more land available on the East Side.
He also voiced concern about traffic congestion at a new larger high school.
Community listening sessions on the plan are expected in upcoming weeks, although Goldhardt says the schedule for listening sessions would increase in the fall, stating that community members often don’t come out to public hearings during the summer.
Long proposed that the joint committee meet again in July.