Letter to City Council re: Middle School

Contributed by Bill St. Laurent
Tuesday, 09 September 2008
The Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers

September 8, 2008
To; The Portsmouth City Council and The Portsmouth School Board

Dear Board Members,

At a recent meeting of the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers the members discussed various issues on the renovation of the Middle School. A motion was made to send a letter to both the city council and school board expressing the issues we have with the Middle School project.

First the size and scope of the project was found to be excessive, grandiose, and way beyond the necessities of a community the size of Portsmouth. The projection of a possible future student growth to 650 as a reason for the expanded size is not in keeping with the growth of the city or the ratio of population growth in the seacoast. Even the representative from the State, expressed the excessive size of the project to the point that the state would only fund up to 43 percent for a 101,000 square foot school, which means anything larger would be at the expense of the taxpayer. We might note that when Pease AFB was at its peak of personnel, the middle school, as it now stands, housed all of the students without a complaint of overcrowding. It was once mentioned at a school board meeting that we will get increased amounts of students for the Middle School from our neighboring communities which is Newington and the known increase from Newington this year is 3 students. So much for a large influx of neighboring students.

The next subject was the eminent domain of the land of the Pierce Trust. This in itself should stop the excessive size of the project as we should never, as a city, break a trust, as this questions the integrity of a city by these actions. Future land grants from residents may be in question because of this trust breaking issue. We know and believe the school board can and should renovate this school on the present footprint and only expand any needed additions to the front of the present building. This scenario was one of the building possibilities presented to the school board and they should have pursued it. It almost seems the school board pursued the Pierce land to create problems, plus they knew it would be an added expense to the project which will be carried by the taxpayer, which the school board seems to have no concern for.

It is unfortunate that this project came to be at an economic downturn, but it did and the powers to be that control the outcome of this project need to be privy to this and work hard to assure that all is being done, along with meeting the needs of our students and the required educational standards, to keep expenses down and find ways to assure the taxpayer that they are not overburdening the taxpayers with grandiose, opulent, and unnecessary amenities in this project. Many taxpayers are in a quandary about heating their homes this winter and to see unnecessary projects such as a 700 seat auditorium, special arts center, etc. call into question the school boards concern for the people who must pay for these overextended additions.

A recent newspaper article by our Mayor Ferrini acknowledged the tax rate for a $25 million bond would increase our tax rate 78 cents and cost an additional $234 for a $300,000 city evaluated home. This additional tax will be with us for 20 years and is unacceptable. Reducing the size and scope of this renovation is necessary for the economic viability of the residents and not to do so smacks at an uncaring elected board. The present addition of our high school should be an example to our elected officials of the excessive and unnecessary cost and size of a project. An increase in student performance narrative, has been used as one reason for these needed additions and renovations, so did the school board follow up on this narrative and what were the results with the high school students?

The Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers members understand the extreme need for this renovation and support the school boards work, but many projects such as these can take on a life of their own with wish lists going beyond the needs or desires of the students. Please forget the fluff and give our children the basic solid building they need for their education.

Bill St. Laurent, President
Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers

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