Laconia schools eyeing additional $1.8M interest-free loan

LACONIA — The Laconia School District is eying an additional interest-free federal loan for $1.8-million dollars that could be used for more renovations within the district's buildings.

The QZAB or Qualified Zone Academy Bond was the federal program that made $6.5 million available to the district for the Huot Regiona Technical Education Center expansion/renovation.

Business Administrator Ed Emond told the School Board's Budget and Personnel Committee last night that he was approached by the N.H. Department of Education about a month ago and told that no school districts had come forward to apply for the balance of the federal loan fund. The loan program is limited to inside upgrades and doesn't allow for new construction.

In order to qualify for QZAB, Emond said a school district needs three things — an "academy", a 10 percent local match, and a viable working collaborative with community partners. In Laconia's case, the district has already started a Wellness Academy and it has raised $1,050,000 in either money or in-kind donations from its community partners.

Emond said the 10 percent match for the first QZAB will take $650,000 of the million already raised, leaving $355,000 — $180,000 of which can be used for the 10 percent match for a new zero-interest loan.

The drawbacks, said Emond, are the payments on a new bond will add $78,260 per year in additional expenditures to the school district's bottom line for 23 years, which may or may not be viable under the city's property tax cap and self-imposed debt service restrictions.

The next step, said Emond, is to have the School Board Facilities Committee meet and set the priorities for any additional renovations.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Terri Forsten said she would be meeting with City Manager Scott Myers to assess what is possible and practical as far as the city and its other departments are concerned.

Like the QZAB grant that partially funded the Huot Center project, a new application for long-term debt, including QZAB, must be approved by the City Council — which may have other priorities for capital improvements and/or debt service in other city departments.

The other option is for the School District to stay within its existing budget by saving $78,000 annually from its operating budget.

Some of the ideas for renovations and upgrades floated at last night's Budget and Personnel meeting include ventilation and heat distribution at the high school, air conditioning in the high school library and auditorium and fire protection and a sprinkler system at the high school.

Emond said the Facilities Committee will be scheduling a meeting within the next two weeks so it can prioritize any suggested renovations and return to the next School Board meeting with a solid list for its consideration.