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Newmarket’s aging school faces expensive fate

Contributing Writer

Published: Monday, November 26, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02


Under threat from the town’s fire chief to shut down the aging high school unless it is rebuilt or repaired, Newmarket taxpayers and school officials are vacillating between what is the best way to fix the problem. One thing is certain, though: there are no inexpensive choices.

Newmarket has a single facility for its middle school and high school. Between grades 6 through 12, there are approximately 600 students.

At a meeting on Nov. 19, at the Town Council Chambers, the expenses of the options were outlined. It would cost an estimated $44.3 million to renovate the current Newmarket Junior/Senior High School and the process would take three years. 

It would cost $50.8 million for a new high school, with an auditorium to be built across the street from the current school, over the course of two years. There is also an option to build the new high school without the auditorium, but it would be ready-to-add at a cost of $47.2 million. Alternatively, building the high school with no auditorium and no plan to add one at any time would cost $46.9 million.

With a $6.5 million difference, renovating the building doesn’t seem to be a popular idea. However, the voters in Newmarket have rejected building a new high school. 

Constructing a new high school that could house the estimated 220 students would be ideal, according to some members of the community. Amanda St. Pierre graduated from Newmarket High School in 2011 with her 72 peers. The school, which has sections that date back to the 1920s, “is getting really old,” she said. “The ceilings were falling and some rooms were flooding when I went there.”

But time is running out. According to an article published by SeacoastOnline, “Fire Chief Rick Malasky wrote a letter to Hayes dated June 29, 2011, saying the agreed upon repairs, at an estimated cost of more than $2 million, must be completed by September 2015 or the building will be either ‘abandoned or replaced.’”

Another option that is being considered would send Newmarket students to Oyster River High School. Oyster River, located in Durham, services students from Durham, Lee and Madbury, and the student body is typically around 700. A few students from Barrington are tuitioned in. In 2006, Oyster River High School also underwent a major renovation that cost $22 million. 

The Oyster River school district was against this proposal when it was originally proposed. However, last spring, the number of enrolled students significantly declined. Since then, the two school districts have been in discussion about a possible merger. 

Jack Nimmo, a sophomore at Oyster River High School, said he would not mind if Newmarket and Oyster River merged.

“I don’t think the atmosphere and general feeling that Oyster River carries would change much,” Nimmo said. “But the classes at Oyster River are small; one negative to having extra kids would be that class sizes would be larger.”

Newmarket Superintendent Jim Hayes said at a public hearing in January, “In terms of a long-term solution, there is no opportunity.”

According to Hayes, Oyster River would consider taking up to 100 Newmarket students, but it would be for no more than five years.

Barrington does not have a high school and recently closed the discussion of building one. Oyster River’s tuition agreement with Barrington is exclusive to its high school students only and costs $13,200 per student, per academic year. 

The Department of Education reports that the cost per student, per academic year at Newmarket high school is $15,161.07. A student at Oyster River high school costs $16,084.19. By entering into a tuition agreement with Oyster River, Newmarket taxpayers could, if Oyster River offers them a similar tuition contract to Barrington’s agreement, save $2,161.07 for each student per academic year.

Discussions are ongoing and will continue in Newmarket and between the districts, but how will the students at Oyster River react to the potential expansion?

Cam Messer, a junior at Oyster River, has an optimistic opinion on his peers.

“I am a firm believer that students get a truly unique and quality education here, and the daunting Newmarket enrollment numbers jeopardizes that,” Messer said. 

“But progress is always good, and if it does happen, I think we will have to deal with the situation in a mature, respectful and responsible way,” he said.

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Sun Apr 21 2013 16:45
I guess it would key for the for this to work is for the Oyster River Tax Payers to receive a serious tax credit for having the vision to build ahead of time. It is frustrating as a resident of NH who was willing to pay for a new school. However we are politically out matched here by people who do not have children.
Thu Apr 11 2013 10:03
I am a parent of ORSD students, and a Lee taxpayer. I agree with the other posters here who describe how living in ORSD requires a degree of sacrifice for the average middle class family. We moved to Lee specifically to send our children to ORSD. Due to higher home values and high property taxes in ORSD, we live in a smaller home than we could buy in Newmarket, Epping, Dover, etc., where the school systems are mediocre at best. The ORSD parents make sacrifices to send our kids to this school system, and any attempts to dilute the quality of the curriculum and atmosphere of this school system will be met with a harsh backlash. Friends that live in Newmarket cannot believe that ORSD residents would ever allow this merger to continue. This push by the new ORSD superintendent to merge with Newmarket , or take in hundreds of students from other districts in order to increase enrollment and revenue is political insanity,and demonstrates that this bureaucrat has not the slightest inkling of understanding of the ORSD parents/taxpayers. I sense that if this merger proceeds in any fashion with any other school system, above and beyond the 60 Barrington students currently enrolled in ORHS, the superintendents tenure at ORSD will be very brief.
Thu Mar 21 2013 22:17
Dear Newmarket Parents. The folks who live in the Oyster River school district love the schools here. We moved here because of the teachers and the common desire for giving our kids the best education. We care so much we are willing to pay allot more in taxes to support our schools. Most of us dont make that much but we will sacrifice what we can to be here. This benefit is wonderful with the result of smaller sized classrooms. Many of us moved here to get away from over run classrooms like we see in Dover. I think many communities could learn from the OR district on how to support education. It does not sit well with me that Newmarket can not agree on their situation and waited too long to do anything and are now willing to make others pay for their irresponsible situation. I feel if you are a parent of a Newmarket child with the desire to send your child to Oyster River then you should be prepared to pay more to do so. Newmarket cant make a decision to repair or build a place for its children. Its unfortunate what you are doing to other communities and its a real burden to us all to have to teach your kids where you have failed to show any progress in our own desire for a good place to send your kids. I would expect that you would pay more and be prepared to put the time into your own schools.
Tue Feb 12 2013 12:50
As an ORSD resident, paying exorbitant property taxes that pretty much flow 100% into the school system with no other provided town services, I don't understand the implications of "merging" the Newmarket and OR school districts. The articles that I have read only mention high school students, but what about the middle school students that are housed within the same facility in Newmarket? Will they be attending ORMS, which is by no means, a "state of the art" facility, and is pretty run down and could use a face lift itself. What are the implications of increasing the student/teacher ratio at both facilities? Then, as an ORSD resident, the question becomes, why am I bothering to live in ORSD and pay exorbitant property taxes, when I could move to either Barrington or Newmarket, purchase a much larger house (for about the same money that I paid for my smaller house in ORSD) and pay about 40-50% of the property taxes that I currently pay AND keep my kids in ORSD? Speaking for myself and other parents in ORSD, we do make conscious sacrifices specifically to keep our kids in ORSD. Often, we end up purchasing smaller houses and pay outrageous just so our kids can attend ORSD, because our primary motivation for doing so is to provide our kids with the educational quality that this school system provides. My fear is that with increased student enrollment, more stresses on facilities from increased enrollment, increased student/teacher ratios, etc. the quality of the educational curriculum will start to plummet. If this is put on the Durham, Madbury,and Lee ballots, it will be universally voted down.
37-39 iscrshe
Wed Nov 28 2012 22:19
Interesting to see a Newmarket/local story in TNH. Is it an expansion of coverage or just a j-student getting in a story for credit? I can't think that there are many UNH students who care about this topic.
Tue Nov 27 2012 15:26
Newmarkets school budget for this year is $15.2 million. If one third of that ($5 million) is used to keep the high school part going, then sending 301 students to Oyster river at $15k/yr($4.5 million total) would be less than the cost of running the school. There would be no increase in property taxes, no extra unexpected maintenance, no contract talks with teachers, etc... The downside would be the loss of jobs. Oyster river is ranked 6th best high school in the state. We should take advantage of this opportunity to send our high school students to a great school.

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