With over $650 million in potential projects, New Hampshire’s school building aid program is one of the top issues of this legislative session. Since the state’s moratorium on the aid program, schools haven’t been the only ones to suffer–construction companies and other businesses have faltered, too according to NHBR.
Senate Bill 192 lifts the moratorium on the school building aid program, which puts $50 million per year in the fund. This barely puts a dent in the fund for proposed projects, since the state still owes a total of $300 million to towns for older projects. But school administrators say that anything would help at this point.
Many of the state’s schools are struggling with outdated buildings, outdated heating and hot water systems, and more. Concord’s middle and high schools won’t have heat next year if they don’t switch over to natural gas, since Concord Steam is scheduled to shut down in May. Hinsdale Elementary School students can’t go on the second floor of the building, where the library and nurse’s office are:
The library was relocated upstairs, but the 1950s three-story building was not able to support the weight of all those books, so about a third were either put into storage or line the shelves in the hallway. Since first-graders are not allowed to go upstairs, the librarian has to roll a cartload of books downstairs on the elevator. Similarly, art classes for first graders are held in the first floor cafeteria, and the school nurse, also located upstairs, has to treat sick and injured students in a small multipurpose room outside Boggio’s office.
If the room is being used for student testing, or discipline, then “we just have to adjust,” Boggio said.
Governor Sununu supported restoring the school building aid program during the campaign:
“We absolutely have to restore school building aid funding,” he said during the last gubernatorial debate on WMUR-TV. “I have a fifth- and a sixth-grader. I’m in my kids’ classrooms. And when you go into a classroom and let’s call it a negative atmosphere — where the windows are painted shut, where the hallways are dimly lit — that’s not a viable education environment for anybody.”
His spokesman said that he hasn’t discussed the program in-depth with his nominee for Education Commissioner, Frank Edelblut. Mr. Edelblut favors schools leasing private buildings, similar to how businesses lease office space. Senate Finance Chairman Gary Daniels (Milford) went a step further and said that districts should take any building repair money and spend it on IT and virtual learning. He also suggested that the fire and safety codes on school buildings might be too stringent, and that the state should look at how the regulations are affecting towns financially. House Finance Chairman Neal Kurk (Weare) talked about “competing priorities” for funding.
These kinds of responses leave school administrators feeling the pinch:
“It would make a big difference if we could get 30 percent from the state,” said Rep. Michael Cahill, D-Newmarket, one of the co-sponsors of the bill that has yet to be unveiled to lift the moratorium.
Cahill said he is optimistic that the governor would put school funding in his budget, but also noted that Sununu also expressed his support for full-day kindergarten and charter schools, “and I’m not sure we can’t fund all three. Nothing is certain.”
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