The Cheshire School Modernization Committee officially presented its proposal for Phase 1 of an expansive infrastructure plan to the Town Council and the Board of Education on Monday, April 5, marking an end to several months worth of work and the beginning of debate over what the overall project will entail.
The SMC presented two potential scenarios—one which involves the construction of two brand new elementary schools on opposite sides of town, while the other calls for the demolition of Chapman Elementary School, construction of a brand new school on the property, and expanding Dodd Middle School to hold grades 6 through 8.
Option 6A—the one favored by the SMC—calls for the construction of a new K through 6th grade school on the north end of town that would cost between $51.5 and $62.5 million, and a second school at the south end of town that would cost between $55.6 and $66.8 million. The exact location of the two schools has yet to be determined.
The construction of the two new schools and the demolition of Norton School would complete Phase 1 of Option 6A, costing, in total, between $107.1 and $129.3 million.
For Option 2A, the new 6 through 8 grade middle school would be built—location yet to be determined—and cost between $112.4 million and $136 million, and the new Chapman School, which would be K through 5th grade, would cost the Town anywhere from $40.3 million and $49.1 million.
Chuck Warrington, a representative from Colliers International, the firm managing the project, walked the Council and BOE through the reasons why modernization is necessary for the schools in the District.
“Based on the projected enrollment for the next eight years, most of the schools in the District will either be at or exceeding capacity,” Warrington explained. “The average age of any of the school buildings in Town is roughly 70 years old, and we have projected that each school in the District will experience growth in the next few years, with Chapman and Highland seeing the strongest growth trends.”
Warrington went through the two scenarios, explaining what the SMC considered before settling on the proposals.
“The SMC favored the Scenario 6 option due to the fact that it focused more on balancing all the elementary schools in the District,” he explained. “The Committee ultimately voted 9-3 in favor of the Scenario 6 option—over the Scenario 2A—but they wanted to still present both options.”
After the presentation, Councilmember Peter Talbot asked about how the group had come up with some of its data.
“...There is obviously a lot to digest here, even after having received in advance a copy (of the proposal)...But I was curious about the enrollment projections,” he began. “...Can someone speak to how Milone and MacBroom got their projections numbers?”
“NESDC (New England School Development Council) is the group that CPS uses for our projections,” answered Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan. “Actually they’re slated to provide us an update on their projections. They usually do that in the spring…”
Solan went on to explain that NESDC uses birth rates to calculate their projections, and that the District is seeing a significant “jump in birth rate”.
BOE member Faith Ham brought up her concern over a lack of attention to Humiston School, and the fact that the longer it remains ADA non-compliant, the more expensive it will be to address.
“I am worried that there is no plan in place for Humiston given all the issues that it faces,” Ham said. “It is a nearly 100 year old school.”
Fellow BOE member, Tim White, pointed out that, while many schools in the District are over 70 years old, they have all had some sort of modern upgrade that should not be ignored.
“It’s a bit misleading to say that they haven’t been touched in over 70 years because, for example, the High School started off as an L-shape when it first opened, and now it's a figure eight, so clearly some construction was done to modernize it,” White said.
White also expressed his concern about Norton Elementary School now being considered as a candidate to be demolished.
“I just know from the parents I have talked to over at Norton, when I bring up the fact that Norton is being considered to be demolished they just have such a sad look on their face,” he added. “It’s going to be a really hard sell to these Norton families.”
The meeting was the first of what is expected to be many to come to discuss the particulars of the proposal. Oris reiterated to those watching the meeting that several details will have to be debated before anything is sent to referendum in November.
“There are still many details that I want to hammer out, specifically on the financial side of things, to make sure that this is the best plan for the Town and students,” Oris said. “But I am very confident that we will be able to come together and get something done for our Town that I think we can all agree is much needed.”
Despite the work ahead of them, both Chairman Oris and BOE Chair Tony Perugini thanked the SMC members for what they’ve already accomplished over the last year.
“On behalf of the Council and the BOE I would like to express our deepest appreciation to every member of the SMC for not only agreeing to serve, but for the many hours of hard work and commitment to the committee and its charge,” Oris said “We know it’s been a long process, it’s not always been an easy process, but I know all of your hearts are in the right place to find an option that works best for our kids and our community…”