Alexa Anderson and Tracey Marano of the School Committee, center, make a presentation on a proposed amenities building for Concord-Carlisle High School, joined by Superintendent of Schools Laurie Hunter, right. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Select Board is skeptical about need for $2.3M stadium restroom at CCHS 

By Celeste Katz Marston
February 13, 2024

 Chair Henry Dane remarked during this week’s Select Board meeting that “what we’re really here to talk about is not the toilet building” — but an hour into a discussion of a proposed $2.3 million restroom project for the Concord-Carlisle High School stadium, it might have been hard to fault someone for thinking otherwise.  

The meeting brought together members of Concord’s Select Board, Finance and School Committees, plus representatives from Carlisle, the other half of the regional school district.  

The overarching plan: to review the regional and Concord school districts’ budgets and capital plans.  

Some of that certainly did come to pass, including an at-times intense discussion about per-pupil spending (by one measure, $24,823 in 2022), class sizes (higher than in  peer communities), and how many CCHS students go on to four-year colleges (around 91%, per the School Committee).  

But the (porta) potty talk section of the meeting encapsulated the perennial tension that exists in Concord — and everywhere — in budget season: When a place has finite resources, how do the town and school sides divvy them up? 

On the warrant for April’s Town Meeting: a Joint School Committee article requesting $2.34 million for a building with 22 restrooms to replace three portables that have served Memorial Field Stadium for nearly a decade. 

“I do think delayed action on this is a detriment to the taxpayer. I don’t want to come back in two years from now with a $4 million building,” School Committee Chair Alexa Anderson told the group.  

“We are talking about a cinder block rectangle with nothing significant architecturally. This is likely as simple as it’s going to get if you are going to in fact build a permanent structure, which the committee thought was necessary,” Anderson continued, adding that CCHS is “the only school in the Dual County League without a permanent structure.”  

School officials, including Superintendent Laurie Hunter, said while the stadium has been squeaking by with the three portables, that’s out of line with a state plumbing code that would require 44 stalls for a stadium with bleachers that can accommodate 1,800 guests.  

“So we’ve had three, and the plumbing code requires 44,” Dane said. “Why aren’t we all in jail now?” 

“The truth is you are not in compliance with the code. You could get cited on that at any moment. There’s choices that have been made not to cite you on that — us on that — right now,” Hunter said. (The School Committee plans to seek a waiver for fewer stalls, some of which will be accessible to people with disabilities.) 

Select Board Clerk Mary Hartman asked whether the schools recognize that “the town has some serious capital needs that have been put on hold [for] decades that would benefit the entire town — not just the schools? And that [would] put money in services that we all use?” 

Returned Regional School Committee Chair Tracey Marano, “You look at all the other towns that we compete with, every other town has a permanent bathroom facility … It is for the community. Our fields are used by everyone in the community. We have grandparents there; we have children from other towns there,” she said, as well as outside events. 

“I understand,” said Hartman, “but I also understand that there’s only so many capital dollars.” 

Finance Committee Chairman Parashar Patel, appearing virtually from Washington, was among those with questions for the school team: “With all due respect, you’re asking people to spend money without any information or data on what the alternatives are,” he said. 

Overall, the proposed fiscal year 2025 Concord Public Schools operating budget unveiled earlier this month comes in at about $46.5 million, a 3.26% increase over the current fiscal year’s budget. The regional district’s proposal is just under $39 million, a 3.08% increase from the prior year. 

Looking at the regional, Select Board member Mark Howell said, “The instructional budget actually is under guideline in terms of its overall increase. It’s the other things — including the facilities-oriented elements of the budget — which are really escalating in ways that are budget busters if that continues.” 

Town Manager Kerry Lafleur weighed in, too, saying that “on the town side, we have a lot of needs. We have probably $100, $150 million worth of needs … and I do feel like on the town side, we have been patient and we have been very supportive of the middle school project, waiting for our chance. And I’m concerned our time is never going to come.” 

Lafleur continued, “I feel like the only way that our needs are going to compete on the same level is if we have a committee with constituencies on all sides looking at this and hearing everything together. So that would be why I would support a permanent building committee — even though I have not in years past.” 

Notably, Carlisle would have to approve the bathroom spending as well. 

The portion Carlisle would contribute would cover a police station renovation that “we’re putting on our warrant this year … That amount of money is a lot of buying power for us,”  said Carlisle Select Board Chair Kate Reid, who urged the school reps to consider a prefab option. 

Ultimately, Marano and Anderson agreed to go back to their colleagues and mull over potential adjustments to the plan.  

“We have a warrant article because that is the process, right? [We] voted on it and we’re going to move forward with it. But we can put it back on our agenda and have this very discussion with the rest of our committee,” Marano said.  

Spending proposals can shrink — but not grow — during Town Meeting, for which the warrant is already finalized.  

The voter registration deadline for Concord’s Town Meeting is April 19. The meeting begins April 29 at CCHS at 7 p.m.