A Royal Office Headache in Rochester

by Raymond Yeagley
We moved our central office in Rochester, N.H., about three years ago. We had no problem convincing our school board of the need for a larger facility that would give our administrative and support staff a little breathing space and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We had outgrown our 50-year-old downtown building. Several staff members were working in inappropriate spaces, and much of our storage and a few offices were located in the hallway, which was a violation of fire safety codes. With two upper stories and a basement, no floor could be reached without ascending or descending a steep, narrow set of stairs. No portion of the district’s headquarters was wheelchair accessible. Further, the only close parking was three on-street spots in a two-hour zone in front of the building. Most visitors parked at the bank next door, causing friction from time to time.

Because our district is a fiscally dependent department of the City of Rochester, our challenge was to gain financial support for a more appropriate office site from a mayor and a city council whose majority had been elected primarily to keep tax rates low.

A Modest Proposal
We proposed to rent a space from the city in what used to be our open-concept high school. (It reverted to city ownership when we moved the high school to a new location. It is used now as a community center that houses the recreation department, a senior citizen center and some regional state offices.) With the help of our facilities manager, I had estimated a cost of $250,000 for remodeling, plus some additional expenses for a new phone system and a local area network that would be needed even if we stayed in the old facility.

This estimate was kept intentionally low because (a) we were working with an open-concept space that was easy to remodel; (b) we intended to keep the existing drop ceiling and carpeting that had been replaced only two years before we moved our high school; and (c) some of the work was to be done by our own maintenance crew. The proposal was beneficial to the city because officials had been unsuccessful at filling more than half of the available space in the building. They could use the rent.

In addition to the $250,000 remodeling estimate, we already had approximately $40,000 in previously appropriated funds for installation of the LAN wiring, a phone system and a few other things that had been planned for our old facility. Those funds would have been expended regardless of our location and were not directly related to a move to a new central office.

This was the maximum we thought our board could support. A few of the city officials who wanted to make the school district look bad in public scoffed at the estimate and required us to use the city's architect for a feasibility study and more reasonable cost estimates. The architect estimated a $500,000 price tag and insisted we couldn't get anything close to our needs for less than that. The estimate was unacceptable to our 13-member school board and to me.

We then went to the architect who does most of our work. He gave us a plan that would fit the original $250,000 estimate for the remodeling, including his fee. We finally were able to sell the concept to the city council, largely because we absolutely had to make the old facility compliant with federal disability standards if we remained there. The cost of that was close to $180,000 and would have resulted in a loss of space. By losing space, we would have to secure an additional location for displaced personnel, which would have driven the cost beyond the $250,000 we proposed for the renovation.

The council reluctantly appropriated the funds, with a couple of councilors hoping privately we would overspend and look foolish. They told us not to expect a penny more if we got into trouble with the costs.

Pleasant Conditions
Ultimately, with the help of an outstanding architect, cooperative contractors and a talented maintenance staff, we were able to design and remodel approximately 11,000 square feet at a total cost of $250,000 plus the phone system and LAN wiring. We met our goals and kept our promise to the taxpayers.

With regard to whether we were able to get what we wanted, our facility is designed efficiently for our operation and provides a pleasant atmosphere for the 30 staff members who work in the central office. We are blessed with spacious offices, adequate storage and some conference and meeting rooms. We are all pleased with the final product.

Raymond Yeagley is the superintendent of the Rochester School Department, 150 Wakefield Street, Suite 8, Rochester, NH 03867. E-mail yeagley@rochesterschools.com