Newmarket's aging school faces expensive fate

By Annah Todd
On November 26, 2012


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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