It’s been a busy month for the School Modernization Committee.
Deadlines have been set and altered, cost estimates have been revealed then recalculated, and a change in leadership has taken place. Yet despite some setbacks and missteps, both Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan and Board of Education Chair Tony Perugini are confident that the Committee is now headed in the right direction — one that involves a detailed plan the group is set to present to the Council.
“During the last SMC meeting (March 17) we voted and decided, finally, on a plan to get to the Council,” Perugini explained. “We had a lot of information to get through, but we are finally headed in the right direction and I think that means the most.”
The new plans Perugini is referring to are based on the original 13 scenarios that the Committee reviewed and then began narrowing down. The SMC has decided on Option 6A as their primary proposal, with Option 2A as the secondary choice.
“Option 6A involves actually creating two new elementary schools, one on the south side of Cheshire and the other on the north end,” Perugini explained. “The schools would operate as K through 6th grade, and Dodd Middle School would remain as it currently is.”
Option 2A would call for the creation of a 6-through-8-grade middle school and repurpose Dodd as an elementary school. This phase also calls for a brand-new Chapman Elementary School built on the current Chapman property.
While the costs for the two new plans are currently being worked through Colliers International, the design firm hired to help the SMC devise its proposals, was able to set a low- and high-end budget range for members and the public to consider.
For Option 6A, the construction of a new K through 6th grade school on the north end of town would cost between $51.5 and $62.5 million, and the second school at the south end of town would cost between $55.6 and $66.8 million. The construction of the two new schools and the demolition of Norton School would complete Phase 1 of Option 6A, and in total the entire phase would cost the Town between $107.1 and $129.3 million. Chapman and Dodd would be addressed in later phases of this scenario, with Dodd likely being renovated and Chapman demolished.
“In Option 2A, we would have the new 6 through 8 middle school, which would cost between $112.4 million and $136 million,” said John Koplas, a representative from Colliers International. “The new Chapman School would be K through 5th grade and cost anywhere from $40.3 million and $49.1 million.”
After the presentation of the two scenarios, Chairman Charles Neth asked the Committee if they were prepared to make a recommendation to the Council, given the numbers and data that had been presented to them. Member Matt Bowman was one of the first to offer his concerns.
“I really would like to see the full financials and tax implications before we make a decision on this,” he added.
Bowman was not the only SMC member wary of making a recommendation without all the facts. Anne Harrigan also voiced her wish for “more time” to consider all the options. However, Neth put the motion to a vote. It passed 9-3, with Harrigan, Jim Jinks, and Jeff Pangaro opposing.
“In the next week or so, we are going to be hammering out those details and trying to figure out what the real cost would be for the town,” Perugini said. “But we are confident that this is the right plan, and that we are going to have something very substantial to give to the Council for April 1.”
Despite the previous hold-ups, Solan and Perugini both believe that the recent town-wide survey gave a good indication that Cheshire residents are supportive of the SMC’s efforts.
“The survey clearly illustrates that there is public interest in updating our facilities and it’s really past due,” said Solan. “I am really glad they pushed the timeline back up to April, and I think they will have a lot to show for it.”