NEWPORT — School administrators in Newport kicked off a community campaign on Wednesday to acquire a sizable state funding contribution in 2022 to expand and upgrade the district’s career and technical education building.
The Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center (SRVRTC) in Newport is eligible to receive a state-funded matching grant that would cover 75% of the construction and equipment costs to renovate the building and better align the learning spaces with the evolving needs of modern industries.
In a public presentation on Wednesday, Jennifer Opalinski, director of Newport’s SRVRTC program, said this project would enable the school to expand programs, increase student capacity in popular courses and broaden the types of learning experiences.
The building, built in 1993, is over 25 years old and needs renovation to match the changes over time in technology and industry practices, Opalinski explained.
“It’s hard to meet the demands of an industry without upgrading or revamping it,” Opalinski told the community.
For example, the welding program’s classroom is a renovated garage originally built for agricultural use. The building lacks the ventilation and space to allow the program to mirror a typical manufacturing work environment, according to Opalinski.
“On a visit to Canam [in Claremont] they asked me if we have an automated welding machine for students to try,” Opalinski said. “We don’t because even if we get that through a grant, which we probably could get, we don’t have the space for it where [the program] is.”
The renovation project would also enable the school to expand its newly launched Emergency Medical Training (EMT) program, which is already at its enrollment capacity of 21 students in its first year, according to Opalinski.
Ed Edmond, the district’s business administrator, said that growing and strengthening the district’s tech-ed offerings has the potential to attract students from other school districts, which increases district enrollment and tuition revenues.
Students who have school choice will often choose a school based on the programs it has available,” Edmond said. “The tuition from other districts may pay for the local share of the cost.”
The school has contracted Lavallee Brensinger Architects of Manchester to oversee the development of the architectural plan. Lavallee Brensinger has designed the construction and renovation of most of New Hampshire’s career-tech schools over the last 25 years, including Newport’s building in 1993. The firm has also handled five of the state-funded tech-center projects over the last six years.
Over the next 18 months the project will involve two critical pieces: to develop a renovation plan and design and get the Newport community behind the project.
Between now and March 2021, the consulting firm and community stakeholders will be collecting data, interviewing faculty and assessing the facility to design prototypes of classroom labs for public input next spring.
Lance Whitehead, a project manager with Lavallee Brensinger, said the facility assessment will look at the working classroom spaces, the viability of equipment for today’s practices, electrical wiring and ventilation and compliance with modern building codes.
The consultants will also incorporate research that includes the region’s industries and employment needs, trending job markets and the programs of interest to students.
“We want to create a lab that is the ideal prototype of what the community feels the lab should be,” Whitehead said.
The other key component will involve getting the community’s buy-in to the project, both literally and figuratively.
Whitehead said that Newport voters will need to commit to fund the town’s obligation of 25% for the state to consider the funding application. This commitment will involve the town approving a bond for the project in March 2022.
The community could raise funds in a variety of ways, including through fundraisers, grants and private donations, according to Opalinski.
The tech-ed school has also formed an advisory committee that, in addition to facilitating in the development of the renovation plan, will attend to engaging and educating the public about the project during the next 18 months.
Importantly, the window of eligibility to Newport’s tech-ed school is extremely limited. Whitehead said the state only approves one or two schools for the fund bi-annually and the tech-ed programs are in a queue awaiting their turn for consideration.
In short, the state notified Newport’s school that its turn for eligibility will be in 2022. If Newport voters do not approve funding the 25% obligation, Newport would not be first in line the following year.
“[The year] 2023 has two school districts already scheduled,” Edmond said. “So the only way we could get into the next year or year after is if one of those two school districts bows out.”
Whitehead said it may be several years before Newport would have another chance to apply. Additionally the state has already discussed changing the program in a few years, either by reducing the number of projects being funded or changing the formula or rules of the funding.
Opalinski said she plans to be “fearless” in her advocacy to the community to fund this project.
“It’s really important to the growth of our kids and to the growth of our community,” Opalinski said.
Anyone interested in serving on the project advisory committee may find a link to the application on the school’s website at www.srvrtc.sau43.org or find more information by calling (603)865-9658.
To watch a recording of the presentation, visit Newport Community Television (NCTV) at its main website or facebook page.