SAU39 - Amherst, NH

FAQ

Answers to Your Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

when will the vote occur? what percentage is needed to pass?

The vote will take place March 2022, and requires 60% voter support. 

 

Have you surveyed the community?

Yes, an initial community survey was conducted in Summer 2020, yielding 1,000+ responses. Building safety, and class size ratios ranked highest among survey respondent concerns.   We will continue to communicate and check in with the community throughout 2021.  

 

When would these projects begin & end?

*Proposed 

*Ground Breaking, SPRING 2023

Projects to run concurrently

*Estimated completion SUMMER 2025

 

How do bonds work?

RSA 33 describes the bond process in NH. In general, the District sells municipal tax-free bonds either directly on the bond market or through an intermediary like the NH Municipal Bond Bank. Once the bonds are sold, the District is obligated to pay them back when they mature just like a corporate bonds. Generally speaking, when someone refers to a “20 year bond,” it is actually separate and discrete bonds that are sold with each one expiring every year for the next 20 years. The interest rate, coupon rate, par value, etc. are determined at the time the bonds are sold.

 

Who developed the proposed building project?

The SAU 39 Joint Facilities Advisory Committee was appointed and tasked by the SAU 39 School Board with conducting an analysis of the state of public education facilities in Amherst. The Committee includes residents, elected officials, and SAU leadership. Their meetings were public and findings were brought to the Amherst School Board over the last several years. Additionally, the building administration and staff have worked with the architects and SAU administration to ensure a facility project that meets the goals of the district.

 

How many students will fit in the new school?

The core community spaces will accommodate a maximum of 1,079 students. The classroom space will hold a maximum of 889 students, with room in the design for future expansion should the need ever arise. Building community core spaces slightly larger allows for future growth, planning, and expansion, if needed. This building has been designed with one eye on the present and the other on the future. It is a comprehensive and strategic design,targeted at meeting the needs of today and tomorrow.

 

How long has the Board been discussing/planning these construction projects?<br />

In September 2018, the SAU 39 Board appointed the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee to review the school facilities in Amherst.   

 

Will the building accommodate the current enrollment and future growth?

Yes. The design accommodates 7 classrooms per grade plus 4 flexible classrooms located between grade levels. This will allow for flexibility when enrollment dictates the need for an additional classroom for a grade. The Joint Facilities Advisory Committee also ensured that the chosen plan would allow for future build, and additional classroom space could be constructed as second story classrooms at the front (west) of the building, if needed. 

 

There are a lot of new developments being planned in Amherst. Will the new elementary school be able to accommodate future growth?

Yes, planning for the future is important. The elementary school is being built to hold 1079 students in the core spaces (library, gym, cafeteria, etc) and will have 4 flexible classrooms for years when a certain grade needs another classroom teacher. The 2020 plan with a higher cost included 9 classrooms for each grade. By closely examining the program, this plan settles on 7 classrooms per grade. 

 

Will the upgraded facilities be more energy efficient?

Yes, the projects include high energy efficiency systems that meet today’s new construction standards and codes for indoor air quality. These standards far exceed the requirements in place when our schools were constructed half a century ago.  

 

Is there an exemption for senior citizens or those who are disabled?

The Town of Amherst offers tax exemptions for elderly and disabled residents that are based on specific criteria determined by the Town. Information can be found at the assessing page of the town site- https://www.amherstnh.gov/assessing/pages/tax-exemption-criteria

 

 

If my assessed property value goes up, does the school get more money?<br />

No. Voters approve a maximum that can be spent on a bond. The school district does not receive additional funds if assessments change.

 

The number of middle school classrooms don't greatly increase, what does the project include?

No. Voters approve a maximum that can be spent on a bond. The school district does not receive additional funds. If additional houses are built, the additional taxpayers will share the fixed cost. The potential exists for impact fees from new developments to be collected, thr fee schedule and collection is managed by the town and coordinated with the schools. 

 

Are there hazardous materials in the building?

Yes. There is asbestos in both buildings that is currently monitored annually via visual inspection. The proposed plans include full asbestos removal from both the middle school and elementary space that will be reused.

 

Now that the building will be larger, what additional costs associated with the operation of the new elementary school should we expect?

The district and board will need to determine a staffing strategy for the new building. Right now, we are limited in our number of classroom teachers and have many extra professional teachers in support roles. The SAU does expect additional classroom teaching positions to be filled, but there is the possibility for savings in other areas as a result. In addition, if Clark is no longer used, there will be savings as a result of operating one building instead of two. 

 

How does Amherst plan to pay for the $83 million in construction costs, and how long should it take to pay it off? How much do you expect to pay annually?

Through the sale of bonds per RSA 33. It is up to the board to determine the length of time they will be paid off, but assuming they are paid off over 30 years, the cost to an average home owner is around $1,000 in the highest year and lessens each year until the final year, assuming the board determines that selling even principal bonds is preferred. There are many variables that could affect the actual costs, and the final costs won’t be determined until bonds are actually sold.

  

 

What happens if we do nothing?

Doing nothing is a costly option.  Many of the existing systems within the current Elementary and Middle school are at, near, or have exceeded their useful life.  Simply to stay in the buildings will require updates to major systems in the near future.  These updates will cost many millions and still not address space constraints, air quality, academic needs or other major deficiencies of the buildings.  Investing millions to maintain a status quo that does not meet the needs of our CURRENT enrollment and student body, let alone any potential growth,  is a waste of taxpayer money. 

 Doing nothing is simply “kicking the can down the road.”

What is the average life span of a school building?

 Varies by system: 

◦Roof: 30 years. 

◦MEP systems: 30 Years. 

◦ Flooring: dependent on choice – likely 20 years. 

Most school buildings are due for renovation around the 50 year mark.

Wilkins is 53 years old, AMS is 48 years old.  Both need renovation to remain in use.

The proposed buildings are made of durable materials with a target lifespan of 50+ years.

What are the cost benefits of doing both the Elementary and AMS projects at the same time?
  • Locking into today’s construction rates which are expected to increase 4-5% annually.
  • Taking advantage of today’s record low bond rates.
  • Additionally there are cost advantages with material purchasing and construction scheduling by running two simultaneous projects.
Why did the committee choose to locate on the current wilkins site?
The existing site was chosen to provide the community with the following:
  • A lower development cost, avoiding costs to acquire land, construct utilities, and a year’s worth of site exploration and permitting, with a savings of approximately $3.3 million dollars.
  • A new elementary school that remains in the Village.
  • A new elementary school consolidated into ONE central building in the Village; resulting in cost and operational/administrative efficiencies. 
Can we apply for State aid?

Yes. This program now requires a successful bond vote before you are awarded any funding. We cannot guarantee what amount we will get before a vote.

The SAU has submitted the required “Letter of Intent” to apply for aid.  The full application will  be submitted once the bond is approved by the voter’s and the project is shovel-ready. To learn more about the process and timeline visit https://www.education.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt326/files/inline-documents/building-aid-process.pdf

What are the plans for clark school?

There are many ideas for how best to utilize the Clark School building and grounds.  A sub-committee has been formed and will be meeting with community and stakeholder groups to present options to the town. 

 

Are all of the cars now going to enter and exit the elementary from Jones Road?

No. Upon discussing the project, it is clear that alleviating the traffic on Boston Post Road is essential. By using the Jones entrance at specific times for specific purposes, that can happen. This serves as an exit point for buses in current renderings.

 

How has the price and scope of the elementary changed from the first iteration to current renderings?<br />

There have been several iterations throughout the process thus far to reach the proposed renderings we see today. In 2020, the proposed elementary school was three stories tall and was estimated to cost $66 million. This year’s bond will bring forth a two story elementary building at a cost of $52.2 million. 

 

How will the elementary school be able to serve the community?

School buildings often serve as the center of community life. This is especially true when a dedicated community center is unavailable, such as the case in Amherst. We are excited that the community will be able to utilize the building after school hours. The elementary building will provide several community use spaces at the front of the building accessible and separate from classroom spaces. These will include a full size gym, library/media center, and the renovated multi-purpose room with stage and mini-gym.

 

What are the outside playspaces going to be like?

At the elementary school:

There will be several outside play spaces. Playgrounds will be located to the south of the building with nearby classroom hallway entrances. The grove area where “over the log” is played will remain. Additionally, there will be space in the back field for additional outdoor classroom spaces. There is also an enclosed courtyard that is accessible for student outdoor time.

At the middle school:

Funds for sitework are included to address the safety concerns posed with the current configuration.  Addressing the outdoor areas and how they can better serve our students is a priority for the JFAC. 

 

IS THE mont vernon apportionment included in the estimated tax impact calculation for Amherst residents?

No, the MV apportionment is not included in the estimated tax impact calculation.  The MV tuition agreement does have a capital calculation built in. However, the numbers presented represent the most conservative information regarding the tax impact to Amherst voters.  The MV apportionment is based on the number of students they send to Amherst, length and desire for a tuition agreement, etc.  Since those things can shift, we aimed to present the numbers that we could provide most accurately to inform voters. 

 

How will the classroom SPACES change at AMS?<br />

The physical classroom environment will be improved greatly with new MEP systems, updated lighting, consistent heating and cooling, greatly improved ventialtion, and square footage to meet today’s educational standards and requirements. 

 

What other options did the committee consider?
Options we explored:
  • Utilizing the Annex Long-term: multiple complications arose with this option.    The building is cut off from all middle and elementary services and would therefore require another layer of administrative and support staffing.    The building contains a number of labs and an art room with a kiln that are for high school use.  The building will be needed even more by Souhegan students in the future as larger classes move up.  
  • Building new at the district-owned Birch Park site: This site was purchased 20 years ago for a school. The purchase of the land passed but the construction failed. We reviewed this site with our architects, but secondary egress challenges and extensive site development costs were an obstacle. 
  • Acquiring new land: Large tracts and parcels the size required for a school are not readily and cheaply available in Amherst.  Additionally, the site development cost would be an added increase to the project. 
  • Expanding and renovating onto existing sites: At AMS, this is what we are recommending.  The Clark site is very land-locked and expansion opportunities do not exist. The parking lot is already extremely undersized at Clark, and there is truly nowhere else to go with that building or site.  At Wilkins, we cannot add a second story, because the existing structure cannot take the load. It would take extensive reinforcement and restructuring, which are cost prohibitive.  If we build deeper in the lot, we essentially have to create a second building behind the school with a second set of systems to maintain, which is cost comparative and does nothing to address the systems and issues with the current building, another expense we would incur.  
  • We discussed the notion of using empty retail or office spaces:  Many of these types of spaces provide limited access to the outdoors, which is something the parent community has voiced as a priority over the years. This would be costly as we would have to bring these buildings to educational codes and standards. 
  • Doing only one school at a time:  We discussed waiting to do AMS at a later date, however, we have a number of expensive system issues in that building that will need replacement and fixes.  It would be unwise to repair those items now only to ask for more funding for renovations in the future.  Additionally, interest rates are historically low.  We would like to lock in the lower rates and realize the savings from bidding the project concurrently and utilizing one Construction Manager.

 

How do the costs presented compare to other recently built and renovated schools?

Note: The costs presented below for comparison indicate Hard Construction Costs. The total cost of a project include both Hard Construction Costs, plus “Soft Costs”. Soft costs include Contingencies, Permitting Fees, Testing, Engineering and Design, Clerk of the Works / Owners Project Manager, Furnishings, Insurance, Technology infrastructure, Legal Counsel, Etc.

 

AmhrestMP_Cost Calculations_DEW(.pdf)

 

how do we know prices won't increase? we keep hearing that public construction projects always cost more?

We have worked diligently to establish a Guaranteed Maximum Price, “GMP”  with our construction management firm. The GMP is the highest amount taxpayers pay for the project, though if the final price is less than the maximum, the District/taxpayers are not obliged to spend unused monies. Any and all savings are returned to taxpayers. 

Our Construction Manager (CM) will competitively bid each trade, with the goal of obtaining a minimum of 3 bids per trade. This process will assist in finding the best value available in the marketplace.  

 

What are the energy costs of the facilities after this project?

Energy analysis will continue as the project continues. When final design and materials are selected, the estimations will be more precise. At this time, please view this deck for energy cost estimates. 

JFAC Energy 

what are the actual costs to kick the can?

 

What is the timeline for construction project?

The preliminary plan involves constructing the new addition of the building first and relocating the kids to the new section of the building as soon as it is complete.

DRAFT
Spring 2023-summer 2024 New addition to be built outside the existing Wilkins School

Late Summer 2024 (start of school) move existing students at Wilkins into new “half addition”

Summer 2024 Demolish existing CW facility (except for Multi purpose and kitchen area)

Summer 2024 Summer 2025 build rest of facility

Summer 2025  Move Clark students and 5th grade into final facility

Fall 2025 New CW elementary fully open preK- 5

The direction from the SAU, Amherst School Board, and JFAC is to minimize the number of moves and disruptions as much as possible. At AMS, the largest areas of real estate will be renovated during the summer of ‘23 and ‘24. All of this is still in draft form and should the bond pass the next year will be spent finalizing and communicating all of the finer points. 

TALK TO US! 

Please provide us your feedback, questions, ideas, and suggestions.  We want to hear from you. You must include an email address in order to receive a direct response. Thank you!