Gov. Chris Sununu’s Public School Infrastructure Fund is nearly maxed out.
A commission tasked with allotting the $18.8 million in one-time grant dollars has recommended all but $50,000 to projects.
Funded by the 2016-17 general fund surplus, the grants were intended to target life-safety infrastructure upgrades, security enhancements and fiber-optic connections in New Hampshire’s schools. With the state’s school building aid program in a moratorium for a decade, districts quickly lined up to apply. There are about $8 million in waitlisted applications, according to the state’s Department of Education.
In Concord, there’s good news and bad news. The commission has green-lighted paying for 80 percent of nearly $944,000 in security projects at Concord High School. But it has so far declined to even vote on a proposal to put $1.4 million toward the district’s nearly $9 million conversion from steam to natural gas.
The money in Concord will help pay for a package of security upgrades to the high school’s public address, exterior door access control, alarms and video surveillance systems. The school’s visitor management system will be digitized, which means people coming into the high school will be logged into an online system that can be immediately accessed remotely if there’s an emergency.
The school district is appreciative, said Concord business administrator Jack Dunn.
“We got something that will make a significant impact over at the high school,” he said.
Still, district officials are disappointed about the steam reimbursement. The district made the rushed and expensive conversion last year after Concord Steam abruptly closed. The Legislature, which assured the struggling company’s closure by pulling its business, considered several proposals for sending a reimbursement the school district’s way but ultimately demurred. For the district, the new infrastructure fund represented something of a last hope to recoup any money from the state for the unexpected expense.
“I think there were challenges of how it fit within this (grant). I think the overall cost was also a factor,” Dunn said.
In Allenstown, the elementary school will get $127,200. That will help pay for more security camera DVR, new digital cameras to replace analog ones, safety-film to reinforce windows, a poll in the playground for a light and camera, a key fob and an intercom, among other security upgrades. The middle school will receive nearly $68,000, also for security.
The Pembroke school district will get help paying for outside doors at the Pembroke Hill school, security camera upgrades district-wide and door access control at its two elementary and middle schools. All told, the district is set to receive about $40,000 from the fund.
The Hopkinton school district will receive more than $317,000. Up until right before the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead in February, the school district simply kept the front doors unlocked during the school day. It started locking them afterwards, but visitors to the schools had to call the front office on their cellphones and wait for somebody to let them in. The fund’s dollars will pay for an intercom system that will allow the front office to buzz people in remotely, along with security cameras.
Hopkinton had originally hoped to put a larger $29 million renovation project before its voters in March to deal with a slew of issues, some of which threaten the school’s accreditation.
“That was a comprehensive approach to fixing multiple problems,” said Hopkinton superintendent Steve Chamberlin.
But with no state building aid, the district instead decided to focus on raising the matching funds necessary to do just those targeted security upgrades the PSIF might pay for. It may only scratch the surface of what the district needs to do, Chamberlin said, but these security upgrades were still “significant priorities.”
The Bow school district will receive $50,000 to upgrade its communications system for compatibility with first responders. And Dunbarton Elementary School will get $30,000 to help redesign its front entrance.
Right now, Dunbarton Elementary School lets people in using a buzzer, video camera and intercom. SAU 67 business administrator Duane Ford said the entrance will be redesigned so that visitors will have to first meet face-to-face with front office personnel through a reinforced window before being allowed in. That will cut down on opportunities to “tailgate,” where people are let in by people ahead of them who get buzzed in.
“These are things that will definitely help with safety and security. There’s no question about that,” SAU 67 superintendent Dean Cascadden said. “But we’ve got our elementary school that we eventually have to do a complete renovation on.”