Board votes to expand middle school onto Peirce land

7/2/2008


By: Dave Choate
Date: Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008
Publication: Portsmouth Herald

PORTSMOUTH — For the School Board, the right move turned out to be the left move.

After a public work session and comments from about a dozen residents, the board voted by an 8-1 margin to expand the Portsmouth Middle School to the left of its current footprint, toward the Portsmouth Public Library and onto Peirce Trust land.

While the decision is not final, it gives the City Council a direction in which to inquire about obtaining the land necessary for the project.

School Board Chairman Mitch Shuldman thanked the public for its input on the school, which he said was clearly in need of an upgrade. He also told board members and the few city councilors gathered that their combined efforts would be needed as the process continues.

"As we move forward, we have to work together. We have a shared responsibility to solve some of these issues," Shuldman said.

Kent LaPage was the lone board member to vote against the move, citing concerns with a potential lengthy legal battle if the city should try to use Peirce land for the school. He also said the likely relocation of the school's softball field and removal of one of the city's largest green spaces were major problems in his eyes.

"I think anybody who thinks this can be solved in six months ... is foolish," LaPage said. "I believe you'll be in court for at least two years."

Residents who spoke were fairly evenly split on whether the board should choose expanding to land on the right of the school, which included portions of Rogers Street and Compass Care, or the left. A couple expressed disappointment with both options, while Pat Gormley of Sagamore Avenue said she hoped the board would consider the size and cost of each project, as well as the possibility of going with a smaller building.

"I ask you to keep this in the back of your mind as you're looking left or right," she said.

The board will likely hold a work session with project architects concerning the size and cost of the building within the next month, according to board members.

Lisa DeStefano of DeStefano Architects said Tuesday's vote will allow the project to move forward on the city's side while architects work on the size of the building; once all those determinations have been made, she said, the design process for the middle school will begin in earnest.

In other news, the School Board voted Tuesday night to approve a tentative five-year contract agreement between the board and the Association of Portsmouth Teachers, which would run through the year 2013.

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