EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 16, 2012

Officials mulling $5.2 million in school construction

Two proposals target Hampstead Central, Middle schools

By Dustin Luca

---- — HAMPSTEAD — Work is badly needed at Hampstead Central and Middle schools. But the School Board — and voters — must decide whether they can afford the estimated $5.2 million cost of projects at both schools.

At this point, the School Board wants more information.

School Board vice chairman Gregory Hoppa said the district is “trying to be proactive” in dealing with aging aspects of the buildings.

One proposal would invest an estimated $823,500 in Hampstead Middle School. The plan includes renovating the school’s library and computer rooms, installing a new 30,000-gallon water tank and improving the school’s main entrance, according to the district’s planning study.

The other project, estimated at $4.3 million, would renovate nearly 4,000 square feet of Hampstead Central School, remove current modular classrooms and add a 15,560-square-foot addition.

Considering the current economic conditions, now may not be the time to take the projects on, Hoppa said.

But the time to act “is coming, and it’s getting closer,” he said. “Like everything else in this country, we can’t just kick the can.”

School Board member Natalie Gallo said the uncertain future of “the fiscal cliff” demands that the projects be tabled until at least next year.

“I don’t know where this country is going to go. I do know that, despite the fact that I feel we should do something about particularly the Central School, I can’t validate it,” she said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful bit of work that we have been presented, but I think it should be tabled until such time that we know where we’re going.”

School Board Chairman Judy Graham said the economy has to be considered when talking about the project. But while costs are low, she said, now might be the time to act on the projects.

“The economy is going to come back at some point, and the swing’s going to go in the other direction,” she said. “All of your costs are going to go right up with that. This, long term, could be the right time to do it at the least possible cost.”

Assistant Superintendent Winfried Feneberg defended the projects, saying that they weren’t something “that the Facilities Committee dreamt up or said it would be nice to have a new building to get rid of the portables.”

”This project was an attempt to look at the schools as an asset for this community, and take care of those assets and improve them,” Feneberg said. “The need doesn’t go away. The need, I think, is greater than patching the skirt around a portable or taking one project that we’ve done, one isolated piece out of the report and go forward with that.”

Following a meeting this week, administrators are currently investigating how much it would cost to conduct a space-needs analysis of both buildings. The analysis, if commissioned, would examine how space is used at the buildings and whether the construction is warranted.