The names of those chosen to serve on the much-discussed and newly-formed School Modernization Committee were announced on Oct. 16 at a meeting of the Town Council.
Chairman Rob Oris announced to those in attendance at the meeting that the Town received roughly 40 applications to join the committee. In the end, 13 were selected.
“We were overwhelmed with the amount of response we received from the public,” mentioned Oris. “Because of this we have decided to vote on increasing the amount of community members on the committee from three to seven.”
A proposal to increase the number of community members from the three originally planned to seven passed with a 7-1 vote, with Councilor Tom Ruocco as the single opposition vote.
The new committee will consist of three Town Councilors, three Board of Education members, and seven residents from the community. The Councilors selected are Paul Bowman (At Large), Sylvia Nichols (At Large), and Peter Talbot (D-4). From the Board, Kathryn Hallen, Anne Harrigan, and Anthony Perugini will serve. The seven community members are Jen Bates, Matt Bowman, Cathleen Devlin, Rich Gusenberg, AnnMarie Kemp, Rene Martinez, and Charles Neth.
“It took us a long time to choose these members,” said Hallen, who helped appoint the members to the committee. “It was clear to us that a lot of people wanted to get involved, but we wanted to choose people who are from a variety of different backgrounds, like construction and communications, because that’s what is going to help us improve our schools.”
After his announcement, Oris thanked all those who applied to serve on the committee, stressing that, “If you were not chosen to be on the committee, please be aware there will be plenty of opportunities for you to help us in either a subcommittee or other capacities.”
The new Modernization Committee is tasked with researching options for ways to improve Cheshire’s public school infrastructure. The most recent attempt to develop a plan came more than two years ago, when the Board of Education presented its Facility Master Plan — a wide-ranging proposal to replace or refurbish current local schools over a period of years, for a price tag of more than $400 million.
The proposal did not receive Council support, and the new committee will attempt to provide a plan conceived in a collaborative manner.
“Two years ago, we went through a similar process,” remembers Perugini, who had a hand in the creation of the original Facility Master Plan. “But the public participation wasn’t there, so when we presented the plan to the Council, it looked like we blind-sided everyone with the huge cost.”
Oris also mentioned the need for the committee to be open and honest with the community.
“We need for this committee to show transparency,” explained Oris. “We invite the community to attend each of the meetings, and they will be taped and easily accessible to anyone who wishes to see it.”
The date for first meeting of the School Modernization Committee has yet to be set.