Concord residents express desire to rebuild middle school at Rundlett site

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 09-29-2023 5:30 PM

The plan to rebuild at Rundlett emerged as the preferred choice among Concord residents during a discussion on the new middle school’s location, largely due to the location’s proximity to downtown and the high school.

“When you’re in elementary school, you’re still in your own neighborhood, and you’re a little kid. But if you go into Rundlett, you are transitioning and coming together,” Concord resident Erica Bodwell said. “You are in Concord and can walk over to the high school, Memorial Field, and things like that.”

The school board presented a total of five options for the construction of the middle school at Tuesday’s meeting. Two of these options involved building on the current grounds of Rundlett Middle School, which has a 20-acre area suitable for the new school. Meanwhile, three options were presented to construct a new building on a 56-acre parcel of land located on South Curtisville Road, next to Broken Ground and Mill Brook schools.

For Tim Osmer, a resident who grew up on the East side, nothing outweighed rebuilding the school at the Rundlett site. He said building at the Broken Ground site would lead to the loss of conservation land, complex traffic patterns, and less-than-ideal proximity to downtown.

“If you do build it over here your options for traffic, ingress, and egress are very limited. So you don’t even have an opportunity in the future to expand opportunities to diffuse traffic. Whereas Rundlett is already where communities are built around traffic that’s dissipating in multiple directions at the same,” explained Osmer.

The two potential locations for the new middle school are situated on opposite sides of the Merrimack River. The west side option is closer to the city’s downtown, while the east side has traffic congestion, particularly due to a four-way stop on South Curtisville Road causing long lines of cars during peak hours. Parents and neighbors feared that placing the middle school within the Broken Ground School would worsen the traffic situation and worried that walkability to the school would be less than ideal.

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However, Rebecca Lovell, who has lived on the East Side for several years had a different perspective.

She emphasized the importance of considering equity and inclusion in the decision-making process and advocated for constructing the school on the Broken Ground School campus.

“We must take into account the often-overlooked and forgotten children living on the Heights side,” she said. “I don’t understand why we can’t create a similar environment up here to make the city more connected.”

Preserving Concord’s green spaces was also an argument made in support of rebuilding the school on the current grounds.

The Concord Greenspace Coalition championed the “Rebuild at Rundlett” cause when the school district proposed purchasing and developing a piece of property on Clinton Street. The coalition promotes “smart growth” initiatives that reinvest in existing infrastructure.

“This approach makes the most of our city’s investments in roads, bridges, water pipes, and other infrastructure, while strengthening Concord’s tax base, protecting green space, increasing walkable neighborhoods, and preventing sprawl,” the organization says on its website. “Smart growth also prioritizes low-income and minority communities and champions robust community engagement.”

Similar to the Clinton Street proposal, the land near Broken Ground School is an undeveloped parcel that contains woods and hiking trails visited by Concord residents. Building the middle school there would require clearing an existing forest. That stands in contrast to the middle school project’s emphasis on creating more outdoor learning spaces, residents said.

Patti Muceio, who had children attend school at Broken Ground, passionately spoke about the value of the green space at the existing campus. She said the nature and wildlife walks her children took there made them more adventurous and fostered a deep love for hiking.

“So, if you want the kids to have more green space, bring them over from Rundlett and have them go on field trips here,” she said in support of rebuilding at the existing site. “It might be less disruptive to traffic and allow them to appreciate the green space that, once it’s gone, will be gone forever.”

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