Hudson school officials discuss $20M upgrade plan

HUDSON–The school district held a community conversation December 17 about a planned capital construction project. District residents are to vote February 9 whether to approve the project, which could cost as much as $19.9 million.

The project’s main features include:

  • Adding up to 18,000 square feet to the Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School building (MCS), in order to make room for more grades. The project would add either a new wing or a second story on the one-story tech wing, or both. Currently the building holds 3rd through 6th grades, but officials envision it holding pre-kindergarten through 5th grade within five years
  • Building a 400-meter track for the high school around a football/soccer field. Additional upgrades to outdoor athletic facilities and bleachers on both the high school and intermediate school grounds
  • Replacing the large vertical windows in the oldest part of the intermediate school with smaller windows and air-conditioning as much of the building as funds allow to improve energy efficiency
  • Replacing inefficient lighting fixtures and upgrading HVAC, plumbing, electricity, fire safety, energy management, bus access and parking at all schools. These features alone would cost about $10.7 million

Still-open questions include:

  • Whether the new football/soccer field will have natural or artificial turf. And whether the field will have lighting to allow night games. These questions might go before voters February 9 as separate items. Lighting would cost $500,000. Artificial turf would cost $850,000 more than natural turf. At a School Board meeting this fall, participants said that artificial turf would require less yearly maintenance but would need to be replaced. At the December 17 meeting, participants discussed the two types of turf and George Keeler, the district’s superintendent of buildings and grounds said he would “set out a comparison” of the options
  • Which upgrades to do at the John L. Edwards Primary School; the district may close the school by about 2020.

Schools Superintendent Maria Suttmeier said the district can “inject $1.5 million” into the project and that about 70% of the cost “will be returned to the district as state aid.”

Influencing some aspects of the project is the possibility of consolidating students from three campuses into two. If the district closes the primary school, grades re-kindergarten through 5th would attend the intermediate school, with 6th through 12th grades on the junior/senior high campus.

Reasons for the reconfiguration, Superintendent Suttmeier said, include:

  • Reduced costs associated with fewer buildings
  • Declining enrollment. A few years ago, the district had 2,200 students. Now it has 1,792 with further declines expected
  • The benefit to students from fewer major transitions between school buildings.

A brochure on the project available at the meeting said closing the primary school on would reduce the potential traffic hazards that arise from children crossing the intersection of Carroll, State and Fourth streets.

If approved the reconfiguration would begin in September, with the 6th grade moving to the junior high, a change district officials say would require “minimal work.” Future stages include moving 2nd grade to the intermediate school, probably in September 2017 and moving the remaining lower grades there by 2020.

School Board member Sage Carter said that at the MCS campus, the “little kids will be in their own area.”

In addition to district officials and the media, about seven people, two of them children, attended the December 17 gathering. After Superintendent Suttmeier gave her presentation, a man in the audience who said he has three children, the oldest in kindergarten, asked, “What happens if enrollment starts going up again?” He was also concerned about having kindergarteners on the same bus with 5th graders.

Superintendent Suttmeier indicated that the district already has students of different grade levels riding together. And the man concluded that in the same building, 8th graders could mentor 6th graders. The reconfiguration, he said, “gives students more of a sense of unity. I’m very in favor of it.”

He did not favor artificial turf, calling it “more painful and less forgiving” than natural turf.

Superintendent Suttmeier responded that artificial turf is better for preventing concussions.

Every five years, schools in the state undergo a building survey to evaluate health, safety, structural concerns. The last such survey rated all Hudson’s school buildings “satisfactory.”

As for the proposal, “We could have stopped at $10.7 million,” Ms. Suttmeier said. “But we didn’t. We don’t want to be shortsighted.” She said $19.9 million would allow flexibility during construction and called the capital project part of Vision 2020, aligning the curriculum with the Common Core standards and getting students ready for college and careers.

Superintendent Suttmeier said the diversity of students in the Hudson City School District means that everybody learns “about world culture.” In addition, she cited recent accomplishments, including the graduation, which has increased from 59% to over 75% in recent years. “This was done by looking at every cohort and every student,” she said.

“Recently we have been removed from the financially stressed list,” she said, with the district able to an amount equal to 4% of the school budget in a reserve fund.”

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