Town Councilors and Board of Education members are considering ways to expedite the construction of two new elementary schools if the projects are approved by voters at referendum this November.
On April 19, the two elected bodies met to get answers about the proposed north end elementary school and new Norton School. If approved by voters, the two buildings are projected to be occupied in early 2026.
Councilors and Board members believe that educating the public on the projects will be essential to the success at the polls. Councilor Peter Talbot asked representatives from Colliers Engineering & Design, the design firm hired to assist the District through the school modernization plan, if there has been any discussion as to marketing the projects.
“We’ve been so focused on the budget and educational specifications, I don’t really think we’ve dived into this yet at this point,” Chuck Warrington, professional engineer and director of project management, said. “That’s the next step.”
“I think that’s a critical piece of this, ultimately,” responded Talbot.
Warrington added that there was discussion to solicit architects to develop renderings for the two new schools as a way to demonstrate to the public what a 21st-century school would look like in comparison to Cheshire’s current facilities. Another option is to reach out to architectural firms to see if they would provide images of completed common spaces, such as gymnasiums, cafeterias, and classrooms, to share with Cheshire voters.
“That’s something John (Koplas, senior project manager) and I have been working on, reaching out to firms,” Warrington stated. “There’s multiple firms who said they would be interested in that.”
Some Councilors, like John Milone, were hesitant to put images out to the public.
“You don’t want people to vote on a design as opposed to an approach,” Milone said. “… We don’t want to rush that out and show a concept that might not be thought through.”
Milone, however, recognized that soliciting interest from architectural and design firms through a request for qualifications could cut months off the project timeline.
“It seems like if we moved forward before the referendum with some risk — and I don’t know if we’re willing to take that risk — we’d accomplish a couple of things. We’d understand more about what we’re voting on and we might advance the schedule,” Milone said.
Warrington estimates that 15–16 firms will submit RFQs for the projects, based on recent school projects in which Colliers has been involved. Per state requirements, Cheshire School District officials and the Board would have to narrow down the list to no more than four firms.
Conversation also focused on renovating Darcey School, which Koplas informed the Council would cost approximately $18.6 million. One of the issues, he continued, is that the renovation would not be as energy efficient as a new building.
Council Chairman Tim Slocum asked if the entirety of Darcey would be renovated, or if parts of the building would be eliminated. Koplas, however, believes the state would not support deconstruction of the school.
“You would not be demolishing a portion or cutting off a portion of the school,” he said. “You would be renovating ultimately what would be required to meet the program. More than likely, you’re going to be renovating most of it.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Solan commented that renovating Darcey was not originally considered by the School Modernization Committee, and that no further consideration has been given to keeping the building operational.
Councilors are expected to vote on May 10 to establish a building committee for the new schools, authorize Solan and the Board to submit grant applications and enter into a grant commitment with the state of Connecticut for each of the schools, and to authorize preparation of schematic drawings and outline specifications.