Frequently Asked Questions

Hasn't the District already approved the new middle school?
No.  The district approved $800,000 to pay for the architects and construction manager to develop a complete plan for the new building, inclusive of all tests and permits.  This work will give us a firm cost for the building and allow construction to begin immediately after the bond is passed.
When will the vote occur? What percentage is needed for passage?
The Vote will be on March 10, 2020 and needs 60% voter support. As a point of comparison, the Athletic Fields warrant passed with 1,786 or 68%.  Assuming a higher turnout for such a significant vote, we anticipate a need for 2,000 “yes” votes.
Why don't we renovate the current building?
On the surface it might seem that renovation would be more economical than building new, but on investigation we found that it was actually more expensive.  Renovation would lock the rebuilding onto the current inefficient footprint, and it would create the huge headache during renovation of where to put the students.
What are the deficiencies of the current middle school?
Numerous studies have shown that the current building has serious deficiencies that are not easily correctable.
  • There are problems with heat, noise, student safety (the terrible traffic pattern, multiple entrances), and handicap accessibility.
  • Many of the classrooms were designed for an elementary school and are undersized for a middle school, especially art and science.
  • There is inadequate storage and performance space for the growing music program.
  • There is inadequate space for special education work and for world language instruction.
  • Classrooms are not located to facilitate the team concept this is central to middle school education.
  • The current building is a sprawling set of additions, a footprint of three football fields, that limits the use of the 11+ acre plot.
  • The current building lacks the break-out spaces and small conference rooms that are needed for today’s education.
  • Bring the current school to today’s standard would cost millions of dollars and not solve the numerous safety issues.
Why are we not preserving parts of the old school - gym and original building?
We reviewed the idea of retaining sections of the old building but chose not to due to cost.  Retaining or repurposing the original Durham High School building would be very expensive, since it would have to be brought up to current standards.  Even turning the middle school gym into a free-standing structure would be costly.  Retaining these structures would also encroach into the space that we need for athletic fields, parking, and roadways.  The total land plot is already small for a middle school, under 12 acres.  The Board felt it could not retain these parts of the old middle school and still have space for key features of the new plan.
Why did the board choose to locate the building on the current 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 $2.9 million dollars.
  • A new middle school that remains in the Durham downtown, close to UNH, the public library, and other amenities.
  • A new middle school that remains close to the high school so students, from both schools, can continue to take advantage of sharing resources and facilities
Did the District consider other location options?
Yes. The Middle School Facilities Committee investigated over a dozen options.  These included expanding the elementary schools and shifting middle school students to them.  It included expanding the high school to include middle school students.  It included repurposing the high school as a middle school and building a new high school.  The committee also considered renovating the current building, and it also considered not making any changes and continuing with the current building.  It found significant cost or logistical problems with all these options.
In what way will this building ensure maximum safety for students and staff?
There are numerous features that enhance safety:
  • There will be one main entrance that can be carefully monitored at the front of the building.
  • Most instruction will be on the 3rd and 4th floor with numerous lock-points that can be activated in an emergency.  There will also be safe egress from the building through four stairways.
  • Entrances to the upper floors have lock out features that prohibit access from the 1st floor when engaged.
  • The school will have HD cameras in all public spaces.
  • We will move to single-use toilets, avoiding “gang toilets” which can be a place for intimidation and bullying.
  • The traffic patterns will be changed so that students are not constantly walking through traffic. (The number 1 cause of student fatalities on school grounds is an auto accident.)
  • A solution focuses on health and wellness. Connecting core subject spaces and support spaces with stairs allows students to travel within the school without distracting other teams, and to travel shorter distances. And as one student noted “…we will get steps in each day…” Meaningful movement allows for regular exercise and cardiovascular breaks throughout the day.
  • Vertical solutions take advantage of less roof area, ground floor area, and exterior wall systems; which results in schools that use less energy to operate.
  • A more spatially efficient solution maximizes the site area that can be dedicated to parking; separate and safer bus and parent vehicle movement; and outdoor learning opportunities including more green space.
How does the current plan use state-of-the art energy systems that create a sustainable buidling?
The new school will provide the community with energy-saving systems and solutions, such as:
  • Geothermal systems to reduce the use of fossil fuels and provide a temperature regulating environment for warmth in the colder months and cooling in the warmer months through using the earth as heat sink, rather than electric compressors.
  • Daylight harvesting will be available, with proper building orientation and strategic use of glass, to reduce the need for electric lighting.
  • Solar Hot Water systems to reduce energy use in domestic water demands.
  • Exterior wall, foundation, and roof systems will be designed to provide enhanced insulation to reduce the heating and cooling loads; which in turn, reduce operational costs.
  • A building designed to be Net-Zero-Energy (NZE)-ready; so, the addition of photovoltaic solar panels can be added to generate as much energy as the facility uses each year.
In terms of carbon footprint, energy efficiency, and sustainability, the proposed school will surpass all New Hampshire public schools.
How will the new school better support the educational objectives of the middle school?
A new school will be designed to provide the community with the following:
  • An integrated learning environment planned to meet the needs of today and tomorrow through a flexible and adaptable structure.
  • Specific educational goals will be integrated into the solution; such as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) spaces purposefully design to encourage and support the integration of these subjects.
  • Core Subject spaces will be purposefully planned and designed to support Middle School team structures; organized to maximize learning collaboration and student mindfulness.
  • Off-team subjects, such as Art, STEM, World Language, and Music will be centrally located on the second floor to allow the same destination distance from the teams and allow the educational leaders for these subjects to take advantage of better collaboration opportunities.
  • The classrooms will meet or exceed current guidelines, with the art, science and music spaces larger than normal classrooms.
  • The building will have the advantage of a Geothermal System for regulating temperature and will avoid the extremes of hot and cold experienced in the current building.
  • The athletic program will benefit from a high school size gym and a regulation turf soccer field which will be shared with the high school.
  • The music program will have adequate practice and storage spaces, and a state-of-the-art recital hall which can be shared with the high school.
In sum, the current building works against the educational mission of the school.  The new building will support it. 
What student population is the school built for - and could it expand if the population expands?
The proposed new school will provide a flexible solution for the community in the following ways:
  • The school is designed for 700 students with an expandable core.
  • Our current long-term planning projection call for a flat or slightly declining middle school population.
  • Future building expansions to over 800 students is possible by adding classrooms on the 3rd and 4th floor. That contingency is built into the design.
  • The use of easy to modify materials and systems creates a school that is both flexible and adaptable to future changes in education and population.
Why does the plan have a recital hall?
The recital hall will be a district-wide facility.
  • Instrumental music participation has doubled over the last 5 years to over 500 students.  As a result the capacity of the high school auditorium does not meet our needs.
  • It will be a state-of-art, acoustically designed, performance space that can accommodate the number of participants that currently attempt to attend student performances but cannot fit within the existing high school or middle school spaces.
  • It will be large enough to fit all 700 students, plus faculty, SAU leaders, community leaders, and guests for assembly purposes.
  • A purposefully-designed space to support the Middle School and High School music programs; which is different from drama or theatrical performances.
  • A space that could be rented out to UNH or other organizations that currently do not have a forum to support well-attended music performances.
Will the school serve the community in after-hours?
The community will benefit from the new middle school through after-hour use within spaces that can be opened to the community without opening access to the learning spaces; such as:
  • A full-size basketball/volleyball court and Alternative PE (exercise) space.
  • A Recital Hall performance space.
  • A common area with access to a community kitchen.
  • A library/learning commons for festivals and specific activities; such as a Maker Faire.
What is the time-line for completion?
The scheduled completion date is currently in two phases. The School will be occupied in March 2022 and the resulting site development will be completed in August 2022.
Design Phase
  • Starts March 2019
  • Schematic Design May 2019
  • GMP Budget November 2019
  • Site and Structure February 2020
Construction Phase
  • Vote March 10, 2020
  • Start Construction May 2020
  • School Opens March 2022
  • Site Complete August 2022
Geothermal vs Boiler-Chilled Water Plant
Bauen Corp. (construction manager) carried $730,000 for the geothermal well field.  Plus $70,000 for the sitework involved including the underground geothermal piping/manifold vault.  there is $800,000 dedicated to the geothermal system outside the building.  Please note the design inside the building (piping, ventilation equipment, etc) remains the same for both geothermal and traditional boiler-chilled water plant.

Yeaton Associates (mechanical engineering consultant) ran some quick numbers based on the heating/cooling loads and would recommend a budget of $130,000 for the boilers and $55,000 for the cooling tower = $185,000.

The incremental cost for the geothermal is approximately $615,000 = ($800,000 - $185,000).

A more detailed Comparison/Breakdown is below:

Using a 15 year ROI, the Project needs a savings of $41,000 per year in energy to pay for the geothermal in 15 years.  Even if it takes 16 or so years, there is still a benefit considering the building will most-likely be there for 50+ years.

Wells High School consumed 705,916 kWhrs and used 44,216.5 Therms (Natural Gas) for 2018 (same year your existing MS costs referenced).  They have 130,000 sqft = 5.4 kWhrs per sqft and = 0.34 Therms per sqft.  They have the same system specified for your project but installed a traditional natural gas boilers and Chilled Water Plant; rather than using their Alternate Geothermal well field.  Their exterior wall envelope is not as good as what is specified for ORMS, so your performance/savings would be a bit better than noted below; but for comparison sake, we can use their numbers. 

The new ORMS is 142,965 sqft.
ORMS spent $0.1545 cents per kWhr in 2018.  If ORMS used the same electricity, at 5.4 kWhrs per sqft x 142,965 sqft = 772,011 kWhrs x $0.1545 = $119,661.71 ORMS spent $0.73 cents per Therm in 2018.  If ORMS used the same amount o f natural gas, at 0.4 Therms per sqft x 142,965 sqft = 48,626.25 Therms x $0.73 = $35,497.16.

This means the approximate cost of a traditional system will cost at least (based on Wells High School) = $155,158.87/142,965 sqft = $1.09 (your utility costs are different that wells Maine; where they pay less).

In November, we predicted a cost of $0.71 per sqft.  So, the difference is $.038 per sqft = $54,326.70 per year in savings.  Using a savings of $54,326.70 over 15 years of ROI = $814,900.50; which covers the incremental $615,000 cost for geothermal.

Lastly, all this assumes the cost of natural gas stays low; although we know it will rise over the next several decades.  Whereas, the cost of electricity - especially when factoring in solar panels installed on the building - will come down due to renewable innovations in generating electricity.
What if we renovate for the fifth time?
Neighboring Newmarket decided to renovate their current high school after many years and many proposals were rejected at the polls. They are currently engaged in a $39 million renovation, most of which is to their high school/elementary building.  Our neighbors in Dover decided it was time to replace their high school, a $87 million-dollar project.   
  • Renovation involves a review of the structural integrity, an analysis of internal systems such as HVAC, lighting, roofing and windows, a review of energy efficiency and how well the building supports the academic mission.
  • Many of the existing systems within the current school are at or near the end of their useful life.Simply to stay in the building will require upgrades to lighting, windows, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air-conditioning), as well as roofing replacement. In addition, once renovation starts the district will be required to meet current building codes. Upgrades will cost tens of millions, and still not address all of the major deficiencies of the academic or safety issues in the current building. Below are a few easily identifiable costs the district will incur if we do ‘nothing’.
  • The current building does not meet academic needs, and the layout is inefficient.Currently children are being educated in classrooms too small, and in the cafeteria as well as hallways. The district would have to consider a 32,000 sq. ft addition to address classroom space.  Currently 45% of the classrooms are substandard.Using the construction costs of $450 dollars per sq. ft an addition would cost $14,400,000.
  • There will be unknown and expensive additional costs doing nothing.The overall layout of the building would need to be addressed as the current layout does not serve the academic needs of our students nor is it energy efficient.It could involve tearing down and rebuilding certain sections of the building.The cost is undetermined, but it could easily be as expensive as the addition. Then there are the unknowns when renovating.Once a wall is opened, the true cost of renovation usually only goes up.Anytime you add on to an existing building, there are many unforeseen issues.
  • Renovation of the current building would require the rental of modular units while construction was on-going.  At least 10 double wide units over a two-year period at $25,000 x 24 = $600,000.  Temporary classrooms would require power, ramps, water, and installation and removal which would add as much as $200,000.Estimated cost would be $800,000.
  • The current building has a roof cover the equivalent area of 3 football fields.  Replacing the Roof could be as much as $1,000,000.
  • Adding to the building would require ADA compliance.  We would be required to have an elevator that went to all three floors and handicapped accessible ramps in addition to stairs. The cost of such upgrades could approach $2,000,000.
  • A two-year old 2017 Siemen’s report on performing energy conservation measures to the current school was estimated to be $5,643,120.  Given recent cost increases in the construction business, this would be 8%-12% more-costly today; using a 10% escalator, the cost increases by $564,312. Siemen’s recommended AGAINST doing the work because they thought it would be a waste of taxpayer money to invest in the current building.Estimated cost, $6,207,432.
  • Fire door replacement could cost as much as $50,000.  We also would be required to enclose open stairwells. The current three-story open staircase would have to be enclosed, likely another $50,000.A total cost of $100,000.
  • The current building is not energy efficient.The current building uses .51 BTU while the new building is estimated at .17 BTU. The current building relies on fossil fuel while the new building proposed using geo-thermal that both heats and cools the building.The new building would be 66% more efficient than the current building. 
  • Even if the district upgraded all these systems, it does not address traffic and student safety issues, cooling a very hot building, the length and efficient design of the building, the loss of academic time due to transitions, and the inadequacy of many of the teaching spaces.It also means there would be no athletic field, as the addition would eliminate the field for reconfigured on-site parking
  • Doing nothing means pumping millions of dollars into a building that experts have said needs to be replaced.  Doing nothing means wasting taxpayer money. The Board feels that doing nothing is simply not an option, as it passes the problem to future boards, when the costs will be significantly more expensive.Now is the time to build new, interest rates are at an all-time low, and every year we delay adds between 4% – 6% to the construction costs.
  • Renovation would take longer than building new and require doing the work in stages because some students would still be in parts of the building.  It would take longer to do, increasing the square foot cost.
  • Renovation solves some issues but does not address safety, sustainability, or current building length.
How much will the school cost and what effect will it have on tax rates?
  • The GMP for the school will cost $49,847,732 to be paid with 25-year bond.  We anticipate that we will be able to handle bond payments by increasing our budget by about 3.5% over the next few years.  In other words, increases similar to recent budgets that have been overwhelmingly approved.
  • The School Board has been very thoughtful on how to construct a budget that has the least impact on the taxpayer.The Board has chosen to use an incremental process to lessen the impact on taxes in the initial years to avoid a large spike in taxes.Traditionally, the entire bond is issued in its entirety once voter approval is granted resulting in a massive spike in taxes the following year.The Board did not want this to happen to OR taxpayers.
  • The Board decided to go with a level debt model and pay interest only for the first two years.  In the third year, the high school bond retires so we can begin to pay principal as well as interest.  Using this approach, the tax increase is minimized year to year for five years.
  • The Board directed administration to propose a budget that includes the cost of the bond and additional warrants.  As a result, the estimated increase of the 2020-2021 budget, inclusive of the middle school bond, negotiated teacher contract and the operating budget is 2.83%, the lowest request in six years.
  • The estimated tax impact of the proposed 2020-21 budget of $47,538,867 is
    Durham Lee Madbury
    Bond - Proposed MS $0.27 $0.42 $0.40
    Proposed Budget $0.02 <-$0.78> <-$0.37>
    Guild Warrant ($627,364) $0.28 $0.43 $0.41
    Total Impact $0.57 $0.07 $0.44
  • A caution. It is impossible for the Board to predict actual taxes in the three towns because a variety of factors go into the rate; apportioned property, student attendance, aid from the state, and the town budgets. Each year the impact of the budget differs from town to town. But we predict that the ASK of future budgets will be about a 3.5% increase, about what it has been in past years.
Does that mean there will be no sharp spike when the bond payment comes due?
Yes.  We anticipate no sharp spike for two reasons.
  • One, the major bond payment will come due when we are retiring the bond for the high school (about $750,000), that money can go to the new bond.
  • Secondly, we will by that point have built up the Capital Improvement Project line in our budget to about $3.5 million in order to “clear the table” of all significant projects.  When the bond becomes due, we will be able to reduce that fund to about $1.5 million and put the difference toward the new bond.  To put it simply, we will primarily be shifting money rather than adding money.
Guaranteed Maximum Price adn how does the per square foot cost of the building compare to similar building projects?
The guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) was announced Wednesday, November 20, 2019.  The GMP is $49,847,732.  The cost compares favorably to in neighboring towns.  The renovation project in Newmarket was $39 million and the new high school in Dover was $87 million. The board recommends that payment of the bond be spread over a 5-year period to avoid sudden spikes in taxes.
What happens if we do nothing?
Actually, doing nothing is quite costly.  All of the existing systems withing the current middle school are at, near, or have exceeded their useful life.  Simply to stay in the building will require upgrades to lighting, windows, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air-conditioning), as well as a new roof in the near future, which will require an engineer study.  If we install air-conditioning, that would cost approximately $1 million (plus annual energy costs).  These upgrades could cost many millions and still not address safety issues, air quality, academic needs or other major deficiencies of the building.  Investing millions in a building that is 84 years old is a waste of taxpayer money. 

The Board feels that doing nothing is simply passing on a problem to future Boards, "kicking the can down the road."
Why don't we wait until the high school bond is paid off?
Right now we are in the best position to build this school. This is for many reasons. First, the borrowing costs for this project are at record lows that we do not expect them to stay this low for the near future. The Feds have been very clear that the rates will not be going down and in fact they have mentioned that they most likely will be going up within the next year. Second, the cost of construction rises each year about 4-6%. Each year we wait, the cost of the project goes up. Third, tomorrow's dollars will not buy as much as today's dollars. A gallon of milk that costs $3 today, may cost $3.10 a year from now. Therefore, the buying power of taxpayer funds is less in the future than it is today. We saw this firsthand in previous projects in the district, and in neighboring districts who put off or voted down projects which ended up costing them much more once it eventually passed. Fourth, we are able to craft the bond and our budget to accommodate the cost of the bond into our annual budget and still keep the increases within reason. We currently average a 3-3.5% increase annually due to operating cost increases, and this will continue as we were able to take care of capital expenditures in past budgets to mitigate any unexpected capital spending. This includes a 5 year teachers guild contract, and the completion of the additions/security improvements at both the Mast Way and Moharimet schools. 

Below you will see the numbers on what the cost of waiting is. We are using an conservative figure of a 4% rise in construction costs annually. We also used some varying bond rates for future years as well as a 2% annual increase in inflation. For example, if we wait until 2023, and the bond rate increases to 3.5%, this would ultimately cost the taxpayers over $16 million in future dollars, or $9.5 million in today's dollars. As mentioned, we need more dollars in the future to buy the same product today. 

As you can see, the board and administration did not decide on this project without a fully thought out process. There is a lot of decision making and problem solving going on behind the scenes where figures like these are run and analyzed to make sure we are making the right decisions. This is why we feel that now is the best time for this project to be approved. 

Start Building In:  Construction Cost (4% Construction Inflation)  Assumed Bond Interest Rate Total Interest Payments  Total Bond Payments (Future $)   Total Bond Payments (2020 $, Assuming 2% Inflation)  Cost of Delay in Future $  Cost of Delay in 2020 $
 2020  $49,847,732  2.50%  $18,916,663  $68,764,395  $52,531,181  $0  $0
 2023  $56,071,919  2.50%  $20,144,523  $76,216,442  $55,503,157  $7,452,047  $2,971,976
 $56,071,919  3.50%  $29,163,782  $85,235,702  $62,104,596  $16,471,307  $9,573,415
 $56,071,919  4.0%  $33,851,237  $89,923,156  $65,541,319  $21,158,761  $13,010,138
 2025  $60,647,388  2.50%  $21,782,697  $82,430,085  $57,698,829  $13,665,690  $5,167,648
 $60,647,388  3.50%  $31,534,576  $92,181,964  $64,559,695  $23,417,569  $12,028,514
 $60,647,388  4.00%  $36,617,916  $97,265,304  $68,136,427  $28,500,909  $15,605,246

Conclusions and interpretation:
  • "Total Interest Payments" shows the amount of interest projected over the life of the bond.  The "total Bond Payments" column is the total of all future principal and interest payments over the life of the bond at the given interest rate.
  • As long as construction inflation is higher than the bond rate, it will cost more to delay construction.
  • If we delay until 2023 when the high school bond is retired, even if we can obtain the same bond interest rate, rising construction costs will mean we pay back an additional $7.45 million ($2.97 mill in 2020 dollars), including over $1 in extra interest.
  • If we delay 5 years and interest rates rise to 4%, the cost of repayment in 2020 dollars would be $15.6 million higher (from 1994-2011, interest rates on 20 year and longer bonds were at above 4% almost every year).
  • The most likely way it would make financial sense to delay the project would be if we expected interest rates to drop well below 2%.

How does the Proposed New Middle School construction costs compare with other schools?

Here is what the Architect, Ron LaMarre, shared with the ORCSD School Board:

Dover HS (not an LBA project) = $241 per sqft construction cost only (building and site).  Bid in 2016 or 2017.  Note, there is no A/C, its only dehumidified, and no enhanced sustainable features (they do have solar panels; paid for through a PPA).

Mid-Coast School of Technology = $242 per sqft construction cost only (building and site).  Bid in 2017. Its Net-Zero-Ready and includes a geothermal system.  The solar panels were an extra $300,000 (filled the roof) paid by the Owner.

Morse HS = $317 per sqft construction cost only (building and site).  Bid in 2019.  This project has a $17,000,000 site cost. It’s also Net-Zero-Ready and includes a geothermal system.

Amesbury ES (not an LBA project) = $499 per sqft construction cost only (building and site).  Just approved by voters in Sept or Oct.  This is a 98,000 sqft Mass School.  It is designed to meet LEED-Silver.  Projected to open in Sept 2022.

Proposed New OR Middle School: Soft Costs are always project dependent and change based on the type of School and the Owner; so if we remove that we can compare apples-to-apples.

ORMS construction cost only (building and site) = $302 per sqft (not including the $1,789,375 CM contingency; which is not included in the above numbers).

What are the bond payments on each year and what is the impact on future budgets?

The bond estimates below are assuming 3%, but the bond rate in January 2020 was 2.17% so numbers below are actually higher than they will when we issue bonds in July.

All percentages below are based on the 2020-2021 budget of $47,538,867.

Year 1: $625,000. About 1.34% of the total budget
Year 2: $1.1 million likely to be about 2% of total budget
Year 3:  $475,000 not quite 1% of total budget
Year 4: $408,000 **
Year 5: $402,000 **

In year 5 the total bond is now included in the budget equaling $3,010,000.

**The ORHS bond is paid up in year 3 freeing $750,000!

To estimate tax impact in future years one would have to be able to see the future, as tax impact is subject to assessed value of the towns, the student population of the towns, and state aide from Concord which change every year.   No one can see into the future, so predicting the tax impact will always be wrong.  However, since the high school bond is paid off in 2022-23, $750,000 is freed up to pay the bond in years 2023-24 and 2024-25, so the impact of the bond on those years is close to zero.  

Dr. Morse Explains the Bond Impact on the District's Budget over the Next Five Years