Idea of merging Troy School with Emerson School floated

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
| Posted: Wednesday, October 15, 2014 

SWANZEY CENTER — About a week after the Monadnock Regional School Board voted to close Gilsum Elementary School, the district’s facilities director has floated the idea of shutting down Troy Elementary School and merging it with Emerson Elementary School in Fitzwilliam.

But the idea won’t be acted on until due diligence is done, said board member Lisa Steadman, chairman of the finance and facilities committee, this morning.

“Nothing is going to happen until we talk to a lot of people about it, and do a lot of studying,” said Steadman, who represents Troy.

At Tuesday’s finance and facilities committee meeting, Monadnock’s facilities director, David LaPointe, made the suggestion to merge Troy and Emerson elementary schools. Action doesn’t need to be taken right away, if at all, he said. However, given what repairs and improvements need to be made to the Troy school, closing it is something that should, at the very least, be discussed, he said.

LaPointe prefaced his comment by saying that as a Troy resident and someone who attended the school as a child, he was about to make a bold statement.

“I would suggest you add four rooms onto Fitzwilliam and put the Troy kids there,” he said.

The Troy school dates back to the 1800s, and it needs a number of repairs and improvements, he said.

“It’s a large list and there is a lot of money there,” he said.

The list includes new ceiling tiles in the gymnasium, addressing school fire escape stairs and ice control at the gym roof, reconditioning a fresh air unit, and changing out interior doors.

In addition, the building’s appearance inside isn’t welcoming to students, LaPointe said.

“Looking at Troy, I don’t know how you can make that building alive. You walk into Fitzwilliam, the building is alive,” he said.

It’s going to take a lot of work to make Troy more welcoming, he said, and it would cost a lot less money to add four rooms to Emerson School in Fitzwilliam, he said.

In fact, of Monadnock’s six school buildings, Troy needs the most work, according to the lists of building needs LaPointe presented to members of the finance and facilities committee.

The lists include rough estimates for repairs and improvements at Troy elementary and the district’s others schools.

The estimated cost at Troy School is roughly $341,000, compared to about $243,500 for upgrades to Emerson, according to the list.

The lists were compiled during recent tours of the schools, LaPointe said.

Since the late 1990s, health and safety improvements have been made to district schools, including replacing the roof on Cutler Elementary School and addressing the sprinkler and fire alarm system at Mount Caesar Elementary School. Both schools are in Swanzey.

At Monadnock’s annual district meeting in March, voters approved spending $150,000 for health and safety repairs at Emerson and Troy elementary schools.

In the meantime, Monadnock Regional Middle/High School has been undergoing a renovation in phases since the mid-2000s. The project, which the state is partially reimbursing the school district for, is wrapping up its last year.

Despite these projects, more work needs to be done, LaPointe said.

LaPointe said student enrollment at Troy and Emerson schools, and how they compare to the district’s other elementary schools, is also something that should be considered.

According to data from the N.H. Department of Education website, Emerson Elementary School had 177 students as of Oct. 1, 2013, and Troy had 139 students. Monadnock’s two elementary schools in Swanzey — Cutler and Mount Caesar — had 310 and 270 students, respectively. Gilsum Elementary School had 31 students.

This year Monadnock officials, in response to declining enrollment and fiscal challenges, combined the principal jobs at Troy and Emerson into one position.

Monadnock covers the towns of Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy.

The district has school buildings in Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Swanzey and Troy.

Emerson School was built in the 1920s as a four-room schoolhouse, and has since had additions put onto it.

Monadnock school board Chairman Richard H. Thackston 3rd of Troy said this morning that any decision on whether to merge Troy and Emerson elementary schools is way down the road.

Student enrollment continues to decline in Monadnock and other school districts in the Monadnock Region and across New England, he said, noting that the Keene Board of Education voted last week to close one of its five elementary schools, Jonathan Daniels School.

He can picture a time in the next 10 years when Monadnock could have one school for students in kindergarten through 8th grade, which should theoretically lower the district’s cost and allow it to provide better services, he said.

“It’s not because we’ll have 100 kids in a class. It’s just because there’ll be no kids there,” he said. “It’s just the way it is.”

LaPointe’s statement about Troy School comes roughly a week after the Monadnock Regional School Board decided to close Gilsum STEAM Academy (Gilsum Elementary School) effective June 30, 2015.

The way the vote was conducted caused outrage among Gilsum parents and residents.

The vote to close Gilsum STEAM Academy wasn’t on the board’s agenda, and came up during Thackston’s chairman’s report.

The school was about a month and a half into operating as Gilsum STEAM Academy. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.

The academy came as the result of school officials’ efforts to reinvent the school with the hope the change would boost the school’s population by attracting students both in and out of district, and possibly make its operation self-sustaining.

Gilsum, a kindergarten through 6th-grade school, is the last of Monadnock’s three northern schools. Over the past 10 years, the board has voted to close the other two northern schools, in Surry and Sullivan. After each vote, those towns withdrew from the district.

In March, voters at Monadnock’s annual meeting approved an advisory-only petition warrant article, 941-527, to close Gilsum Elementary School at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

The petition warrant article originated in the town of Troy, which is involved in a lawsuit against Monadnock over a change in the school’s funding formula that took place in 2013. The change caused Troy’s apportionment to the school district to jump by 16.1 percent.