The Monroe community got a first look at their school’s proposed secure entryway renovation project during an informational session held on Thursday evening.
“The number one issue we have is the security of the entryway into the school,” said District Administrator Leah Holz. “That’s according to the New Hampshire Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.”
Currently, at Monroe Consolidated School, visitors who are allowed entrance have pretty much free reign of the school building as they must walk upstairs to access the main office space.
The project proposal, available on the school website, would create a new addition on the main level of the school, where the current entrance is. The addition would contain a secure entryway, reception area, district office, principal’s office and a meeting space.
“We’d be putting another set of doors there along with moving the offices up there so there’s direct oversight of who is coming in and how far they can go into the building,” explained Business Manager Rose Harris.
“We really don’t have a designated meeting space now,” said Holz. “There are offices … I have one little table in my office. But we don’t have anywhere to actually have a committee meeting or an IEP meeting with all the members. It’ll be good to have it in that first entry spot to avoid any unnecessary traffic through the building where the students are.”
The proposed project also includes a number of changes due to code violations that would be triggered by the renovation.
“Because we’re moving the administrative offices, we’ll be able to relocate the nurse’s office to a more central location in the building with access to a bathroom — which code says its supposed to have and we don’t currently have right now,” said Holz. “We’ll be able to put things in better spaces.”
The initial cost estimate for the project at current prices is $2,136,250, though Holz cautions Monroe taxpayers from making a decision before they learn what the tax impact will be — a figure that should be coming soon.
“The total cost is such a sticker shock,” she said. “But once you break it down it should be more palatable.”
The school will also be applying for building aid from the state, which could cover 30 percent or more of the cost of the project. However, Holz noted that the aid process is very competitive and the school would not know if their application was approved until January of next year.
The school’s board of directors previously brought a similar, but larger, project before voters at town meeting in March of 2019, but it was rejected.
“The first project had a much broader scope with a whole bunch of offshoots,” Holz said. “This time, we went back to the drawing board and reassessed our approach to the project, deciding to hone in on the security of the entryway. We started again from scratch, working with a new architect and all new people.”
The school’s board of directors utilized the services of Banwell Architects and Trumbull-Nelson Construction — who were on hand to discuss the details on Thursday evening — to come up with a plan and a cost estimate. A handful of Monroe residents turned out, offering critique and commentary on everything from the number of windows to the location of stairs and exits.
Justin Bradshaw, select board member, noted that some in town might have a mentality that would cause them to vote against the project no matter what.
“We just got approval for a $400,000 fire truck, no problem at all,” he said. “But the difference is that [the fire truck] benefits everyone in town, while this only benefits the parents in town. That just makes it a lot more of a struggle to pass at town meeting.”
“Or you could reframe it that it does benefit everybody, because you want your youths to be well-educated,” said School Board Chair Kaitlin Ward. “I’m aware that not everyone’s looking at it that way, but it’s true: if you don’t have a good next generation then the world’s falling apart.”
School officials noted that, if the project was to be voted down, they would have to go back to the drawing board with the Division of Homeland Security.
If approved, the renovation project is currently estimated to begin around July 1, 2023, and be completed around February of 2024.
More details about the proposed addition and renovation can be found at monroeschool77.com/home/renovation-project, and Holz and Harris encourage anyone with comments or questions to reach out to them.