Charlestown voters to consider closing school amid dwindling enrollment

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 03-05-2024 5:09 PM

NORTH CHARLESTOWN — An article on the Fall Mountain School District warrant asks Charlestown voters if they want to permanently close the North Charlestown Community School and return ownership to the Farwell Trust.

The trust donated the original Farwell School, which sits on five acres, to the town in 1990. In the mid-1990s, an addition was put on the school to accommodate fourth and fifth grade students who were being bused to North Walpole, N.H., and it was renamed the North Charlestown Community School.

Initially after the addition opened in 1996, there were about 80 students attending the school. This year, the school on River Road is being used for preschool only. Starting in the fall, grades one through five, with about 60 pupils and one classroom for each grade, moved to the Charlestown Primary School near the center of town.

“Population everywhere is dwindling, but especially in North Charlestown,” said Alissa Bascom, chairwoman of the Fall Mountain School Board and a Charlestown resident.

A condition of the agreement when the school district took ownership from the Farwell Trust was that it had to be used for educational purposes, so when the older students moved to the primary school in the fall, the preschool moved from the primary school to the community school.

Bascom said the Fall Mountain School District is projected to save about $180,000 in expenses by ceasing operation in the building.

“With the number of kids declining so much they didn’t really need the school anymore. They were just keeping the preschool there to meet requirements of the district,” Albert St. Pierre, a Farwell Trustee, said. “The declining enrollment is driving these things, and we want what’s best for the kids. We are willing to take it back and run it again.”

The trustees, which have no affiliation with the town, would be 100% responsible for maintaining the building.

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“We have a lot of (potential) uses,” St. Pierre said. “Nonprofits are looking for a daycare.”

The original stone building was constructed in 1890 with a donation from Jesse Farwell, a Detroit businessman born in Charlestown. It was named to the National Historic Register in 1990.

Bascom said at hearing in January, the School Board agreed if Charlestown — which is the only town in the five-town district that will vote on the question — opts to close the school, the district will appropriate $20,000 in the budget to help maintain it for up to a year if the trustees cannot find a tenant

Bascom said she has not heard any strong opposition to the article but did not want to predict a result.

“We are not sure how town really feels until the vote,” Bascom said. “Good research has been done with an eye toward what will serve Charlestown and North Charlestown best.”

Voting on the Fall Mountain School District warrant for Charlestown voters is Tuesday at the Charlestown Senior Center from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.