To build, or not to build.
That was one of many questions Tuesday night during a public forum designed to provide the school district with insight about multimillion-dollar proposals to renovate Hampton Academy or build a new middle school for the town.
Roughly 40 people attended the session, which featured a large cross-section of viewpoints, ranging from individuals who would like to see the district spend roughly $28 million to construct a new facility off Towle Farm Road, individuals who want the district to spend $26 million to renovate the current building, and those who want to leave it alone or just spend money to bring it to code.
State Rep. Fred Rice, Selectmen Jerry Znoj and Mike Pierce, the Hampton School Board, and administrators and staff from School Administrative Unit 90, Marston School and Hampton Academy were among the individuals present Tuesday.
The above video showcases some of the various viewpoints from those and other individuals during the forum, which followed a half-hour tour of Hampton Academy.
School Principal Dave O'Connor pointed out during one of Tuesday's tours many of the issues facing the current building, which was originally built in 1939 and has had several additions over the years, the most recent of which was 1976.
Those issues include: a lack of storage space; a variety of code and Americans with Disabilities Act noncompliance issues; poor-to-nonexistant ventilation and circulation; no sprinkler heads; insufficient bathrooms for a school with 425 students; a non-regulation gymnasium that forces all sports save for volleyball, field hockey and soccer to be played at Marston School; insufficient space for the band and chorus, which combined comprise two-thirds of the school's students; and more.
There are also several unusable spaces — including several rooms in the building's so-called "dungeon," said O'Connor. These rooms include a large dirt-floored room once used as a bomb shelter, which O'Connor said is now unusable even for storage, and the boys locker room.
"The school is well maintained — there's no question about that," said O'Connor. "We're grandfathered here [for some of the issues], but having a grandfather is not going to explain things if there is a fire here.
"The building's been very well maintained over the years, but the inside of the building just doesn't lend itself for what we want to do educationally in the future."
The audience was seemingly split Tuesday, as most expressed either desires to renovate the building or build a new one. Some also expressed concerns about money, as taxpayers have voted against much smaller bonds and projects in recent years.
Few publicly said they wished to do nothing or to only fix the code issues — the other two options on the table — because, as SAU 90 Superintendent Kathleen Murphy put it, the district "need[s] to address some things" in the building.
"[Doing nothing] is not an option, after looking at this building during the tour," said one man. "This building looks exactly like the way my junior high school did [decades ago]."
Hampton School Board Chairwoman Rosemary Lamers said she was "pleased" with the strong turnout, and said the district will continue to gather feedback in upcoming months in order to truly explore "where the people want to go."
Lamers said, though, that talks about a major overhaul of Hampton Academy or building a new school have been lingering since 1972. Because of this, Lamers said the town does have to "do something soon," get additional engineering plans and studies, and make a decision about the middle school's future.
"We're all doing our due diligence," she said. "Any of the four options are options. We have the facts and data, and from here we just want to hear from the public about what else they'd like to see and what they'd like to do."
A detailed breakdown of the various Hampton Academy plans will be posted on the SAU 90 website at some point in the near future, according to Murphy.