WHITEFIELD, NH -- Students, parents and visitors will be greeted with a dramatic face lift as they enter White Mountains Regional High School this fall. All the work is part of a plan to address some long-delayed maintenance upgrades there and in other district schools, as well as update security measures in a reasoned and restrained response to Sandy Hook School shootings last December.

A new set of exterior doors in the air lock entryway to the high school are just the start. There on the entryway corridor floor is the school's emblem stenciled into the new flooring for both the school's main entryways. Also visible from the entrance is the newly refurbished library with floor, walls and ceilings redone, furniture upgraded and book stacks moved to the outer walls creating an unimpeded view throughout. A temporary partition to an adjoining office room was removed making the room much larger than previously. It is expected the library will serve as a research hub for students with additional Internet connections planned for the space.

This work and a transformation of Room 106 into a state-of-the-art digital presentation and testing room caps a busy summer for the district maintenance crew and contractors.

The school board allocated a combination of unexpended budget reserves matched by building maintenance trust funds to scratch many items off the district's maintenance "to do" list. Costs for all the work undertaken will total in excess of $650,000 with grant funds (for WMRHS Rm. 106) and capital reserve and surplus from the 2012-2013 budget covering the bulk of the costs.

Elsewhere in the district, Jefferson School sees a substandard electrical system upgraded to 3-phase power with heavier duty entry boxes re-located out of the boiler room clearing up a long-standing life/safety code deficiency. No longer will freezers need to be unplugged to use stage lights for programs and presentations. In addition the oldest of 2 oil-fired boilers was removed and replaced by a modern pellet boiler, an Okefon supplied by Maine Energy Systems of Bethel.

The new, high-efficiency system comes with a 29-ton pellet storage outdoor silo that supplies pellets on-demand via an underground, pneumatic tube. Controls for the system are being integrated with existing boiler controls managed by Siemens. This should produce savings over oil usage of 40 percent or better.

For the district this is a pilot test of the newest pellet technology and, should savings prove out as promised, it is likely more changeovers to wood-fired systems (pellet or biomass chips) would be undertaken at Whitefield and Lancaster schools in an effort to stem continued oil price rises and market volatility. Already a large chip boiler is planned for the proposed CTE addition that would heat the entire high school property with a hot water system at considerable annual savings.

Throughout the district upgrades and refinements are being made to security cameras with some additional views being added with better quality images and new hard drive storage systems. In addition check-in windows are being beefed up to add a bit more security for the person buzzing folks through during the day.

The security upgrades resulted from a comprehensive review by the NH Homeland Security schools expert in consultation with local police chiefs. Overall the district was given high marks for security practices already in place. While some of these upgrades may be delayed some weeks due to supply shortages, they all should be in place soon and add to the safe, efficient and secure operation of the schools.

In Lancaster, long-standing cracks in the bathroom concrete floors were repaired and the floors sealed to eliminate bacterial issues that posed health problems.

As the district moves to more computerized Core Standard testing, the rewired Room 106 at the high school makes any kind of digital connection possible from a straightforward, integrated control panel which can source DVD, IPad, laptop or static documents for view on the large, retractable screen at the front of the room. Websites can be accessed from the controller or even remote programming, such as distance learning coursework, lectures, news conferences and more. All can be dialed on the phone pad and be connected interactively with microphones available for presenter and participants alike. Building and grounds director Ric Vashaw remarked that the room has come full circle since its inception many years ago and is back to its originally intended purpose. The room also will be used for new Core Standards testing allowing the high school testing to be accomplished in a much shorter period of time.

It is possible some public meetings and school district hearings would be scheduled here owing to the improved sound system and acoustics in the room.

One criticism of the projects has been that the public believes maintenance, at the high school particularly, has been deferred too long and that a bond last year issue seeking $4.3 million to address these high school issues was proof of poor management. But already many routine maintenance issues are routinely addressed within the budget. In this category would be painting, annual asbestos-containing tile removal or covering, roof maintenance and parking lot, walkways and access roads paving. To be sure some larger items have been deferred but given that the district's budget has hovered steadily in the $19 million area since 2007, but successive school boards continue to restrain the budget creep and their belief that the voting public had no appetite for big ticket maintenance projects that remain on the "to do" list. Instead these items were part of the large renovation bond requested as part of last year's annual meeting.

Several of those large projects remain: sprinklering the original school, changing out internal transformers to external placement, renovating bathrooms and the cafeteria and energy efficiency tasks like replacing windows and improving the building's envelope. These items total close to $2 million.

In the planning stage is a comprehensive design, layout and engineering plan for high school athletic fields that ties into the drainage work done by volunteers. When complete the plan will provide field reorientation already seen with the varsity high school soccer field running 180 degrees (SW to NE) from its standard orientation. Included in the planning is a 6-lane all-weather track across the road from the present parking lot. On the interior of the track is a playing field (soccer or field hockey). The design contract calls for the district to get engineering plans, pricing and time frame for completion.

The district then would determine when and in what order the phased projects would be accomplished and how they would be paid for. While there is an acknowledged broad support for the track complex there also is recognition that its cost is out of reach of the present budget process which has many other academic and staffing decisions that are greater priorities.

All the work accomplished this summer caps a compressed time span in which security, safety, energy efficiency, health and academic environment all have been addressed to produce an improved the educational environment.

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