Korn School on the Chopping Block?


Thomas Peters

The Korn School building in March, 2021.

The former Korn Elementary School building is on the chopping block and the only way it can be saved is by the Town of Durham, which could decide to take over ownership and maintenance. 


Korn Elementary School closed its doors for students at the end of the 2017 school year; however, the district continues to pay for its upkeep. 


The building stays idle, but for the past five years RSD13 has kept Korn School heated, cleaned, and maintained. 


With the building approaching its 58th anniversary, some equipment is in need of an upgrade.


One of the needed capital improvements for the building is in the boiler systems. 


A replacement boiler would cost as much as $25,000 according to Board Member Melissa Booth. The current boiler is in need of repair due glycol leak. 


Capital improvement expenses like the potential new boiler has motivated the board members to make a direct decision as to what the district should do with the building. 


At their February 10th meeting the Regional School District 13 Board of Education members explained that the district will tear down the former Korn Elementary School unless the Town of Durham takes over ownership and maintenance. 


BOE Chairman, Bob Moore, drafted a resolution during the remote meeting to hand over all authorization to the Chair of the Board of Education and the district’s superintendent in the transfer process in the event the town takes the building. This means the full Board of Education would not have to convene everytime a decision is made. 


All Board members unanimously voted in favor of said resolution.


If the town were to accept the transfer, Korn School would be in the hands of the Town of Durham without any capital plan, where if any costly renovations were needed, appropriations may either have to come from a general obligation municipal bond or directly from the town budget. 


It is likely that any appropriation made would have to be presented to Durham electors and property owners first, in the form of a ballot question or town meeting. A 2018 ballot referendum to convert former Korn Elementary school into a community center was voted down by over 300 votes. 


If the town were to reject the transfer, Korn School would continue to be in control of Regional School District 13, where it is likely the building would be demolished.


Regional School District 13 Director of Finance, Mrs. Kim Neubig, solicited quotes and received estimated costs for the potential demolition. One quote estimated about $750,000 to $1,000,000 depending on ground remediation costs. 


This capital could be paid through multiple ways. It could be paid either through bonding costs or divide the costs into a three-year capital reserve. Another option could be to budget the demolition costs all in a one-year period. This option would increase the district budget by over two-percent, according to Mrs. Nuebig. 


Even though Durham voters made a clear decision to not convert the former Korn Elementary School into a community center during the 2018 referendum, community members continue to support the idea to repurpose the building into a community center. 


Suggestions for the building have spanned from Senior facility, to recreational uses, and to even some private investment.


In November, a joint meeting was held virtually with Durham’s Board of Selectmen and other boards and commissions to discuss what purposes each body could have for the building. 


During this meeting chair members voiced their opinions on the possible transfer as well as the uses their boards and commission could have for the building. 


Chair of the Senior Citizen Board, Lainy Melvin, was in favor of renovating the building into some type of community center. 


Other members did not specify that the building should become a community center, however, vocalized the need for the building as storage space.


Emergency Management Director, Kevin Donovan, explained how the building was currently hosting food, water, and other supplies that would have to be relocated into a temporary building if the building were to be removed. 


Korn School is not only used for storage, but many community meetings and elections are conducted in the building throughout the year as well. 


Not only would the removal or renovation of the building bring logistical issues, but it also touches an emotional response from the overall community. 


Helen Pearce, a lifelong Durham resident, and proud daughter of Francis E. Korn for whom the building was named after had plenty to say. 


“My father was in education—he was a [Durham] school board member at the age of twenty-one and secretary of the school board.” Helen Pearce explained. 


Mrs. Pearce also spoke about how her father was involved in the establishment of Durham High School. 


She expressed that she would not want to see the building be destroyed, stating: “I’m very much interested in making it a community center—an activity center to be used by all ages.” 


When asked about the financial difficulties the transformation process from school to an activity center may bring to the town, Helen Pearce believed that the improvement costs for this project should be gradual, and: “not all at once.” 


When asked about the possibility of demolishing the building Mrs. Pearce said it would be: “heartbreaking,” for her and her family. 


This building seems to have an effect on the younger generations as well. Various RSD13 students shared their reactions to the unknown future of Korn School as well. 


Greg Lenoce, a former Korn Elementary student and current Senior at Coginchaug explained that he would like to see the building become a senior center. 


“A senior center is the most practical option, shame to let a nice building like that go to waste.” Mr. Lenoce explained. 


Hannah Balay, a Coginchaug Senior believed it should become a community center. “I believe that it [the building] should be turned into a community center where activities can be held,” commented Ms. Balay.  


Henry St. John, a Sophomore at Coginchaug followed Ms. Balay’s opinion by stating: “I think it could be used as some sort of community building.” 


Not everyone shared the same opinion. Nick Planeta, a former Korn Elementary student and now Coginchaug Senior believe the building should go. “Destroy it. The taxes in this town are high enough. As nice as a place it would be as a senior facility, it’s not something that is crucial at this time.” Mr. Planeta concluded.


The future of former Korn Elementary may be fluid, but what is certain is that money will be spent. The town has until March 31st to make a decision.