Allenstown likes the idea of ​​turning the school into a community center, but it’s not done yet

Voters agreed to take a close look at Allenstown Elementary before buying it for $1 and turning it into a new town hall and community center.

The final two questions on the ballot Tuesday asked voters to approve of the school’s buy-for-a-dollar, which passed by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, 174-62; and whether to raise $100,000 to assess the cost of renovating the building, which went by a 2-to-1 margin, 158-76.

“People overwhelmingly approved of the study of whether to buy this building for the multiple uses we want to put it to,” said city administrator Derik Goodine.

City officials want to convert the 33,000 square foot elementary school into a new town hall and community center with a gymnasium and meeting area, and lease the remaining space to businesses.

A benefit of Tuesday’s vote is that it gives the city time to plan its next steps since students will still be taking classes there until 2023.

“We don’t have to rush to do it,” Goodine said. “It really gives us a lot of time to see what the study confirms and come back next year.”

Last year, voters approved the construction of a new school on River Road, which will accommodate students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The school is expected to open in the fall of 2023, leaving existing middle and elementary schools vacant.

The ability to design a new school while repurposing an existing building into the community center is a unique opportunity for a small town like Allenstown.

“Just in terms of quality of life issues with the playing field and open space, we think we have a pretty good case already,” Goodine said.

Goodine estimates that the cost of evaluating the building and conducting market research to gauge business interest in renting space would be around $10,000. If voters agree to move forward at next year’s town hall, the remaining $90,000 would go toward renovations.

At the city’s deliberative session last month, Goodine said building an elementary school-sized structure would cost millions of dollars, while the cost of renovations would be a fraction of the cost.

But all is not done. The school board must also vote to sell the building to the city for $1, and Goodine expects a more formal proposal at next year’s town hall.

“I think they’ll approve it eventually, but time will tell,” Goodine said.

Another point that could arise next year is what to do with the aging Dupont School, which will also become vacant and in greater need of repairs. However, the city has no current plans for the school.

Voters passed all other items on the ballot, including the $4.5 million operating budget. This vote was the tightest of the evening with 126 people voting yes and 101 people voting no.

For two seats on the board, incumbents Maureen Higham and Jim Rodger were easily re-elected.

On the school side of the ballot, Kelsey Menelaus-Charest won an open seat on the school board, beating challenger John Childs.

Voters narrowly approved the $12.1 million operating budget and an additional $83,000 to hire a new elementary school teacher.

Jill E. Washington