Don’t Repeat PHS Mistakes

Written by David Witham
Sunday, 19 March 2006
Kudos to our City Council for having School Board revisit the option of renovating the middle school. Why is the high school relevant? The School Board is using the same architect, Team Design, a cozy relationship. Why would this firm come up with a creative solution for renovating the middle school given the shortcomings of the high school project and with the temptation of designing a whole new school? It is time for the City Council and the School Board to look at the middle school with fresh eyes with the input from some creative entities.Kudos to our City Council for requesting that the School Board revisit the option of renovating the middle school. There is no argument that the building is in need of updating but it appears the School Board was too rash in their decision to abandon the building. The two factors which I believe led to this decision were 1) the School Board was still coming off their high from the perceived success of the high school renovations and 2) the inability to think outside the box and look at creative solutions.

It still amazes me how the high school renovation project flew under the radar screen. Every square inch of our new library is being scrutinized but the $37 million high school project went virtually unchallenged. The chairman of our School Board had declared the new high school a “Monument to Education” when in fact with closer inspection it is more a “Monument to Mediocrity and Inefficiency.” (I must also state this is by no means an assault on those who dedicated hours upon hours of their time to see this project through).

I attended an early Joint Building Committee meeting where some concerned citizens gave an informative presentation on making the high school energy efficient using simple, cost-effective technologies. This presentation fell on deaf ears. This past winter the city has run a deficit for heating the schools of roughly a half-million dollars, the majority due to the high school. (Yes, fuel costs have risen, but it also has been a record warm winter)

The architects then stated they spent a day in Portsmouth to study our architectural styles and said they found we use clapboards, brick, and cedar shakes. Not exactly rocket science. but that is what we got for $37 million, a series of plain boxes with a mix of different sidings (with the highest maintenance materials being at the upper floors). When the high school reopened it gleamed with shiny walls, floors and new furnishings. But this is not enough to categorize it as a successful furnishings. But this is not enough to categorize it as a successful project. I believe the city and its students deserved more for its money.

Why does the high school matter in discussions with the middle school? Because the School Board is dealing with the same architectural firm, Team Design, who they seem to have developed a cozy relationship with. It is not realistic to feel this firm can come up with a creative solution for renovating the middle school given the shortcomings of the high school project and the temptation of designing a whole new school is dangling in front of them.

It is time for the City Council and the School Board to look at the middle school with fresh eyes with the input from some creative entities. In the end the notion to abandon the school may still hold true but a fresh approach is needed. The thought of having a new middle school reflecting the character of the new high school is not refreshing at all.

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