As the conversation over how to address Cheshire’s aging school infrastructure has advanced over the years, one thing has seemed clear: Residents will ultimately have to decide whether to improve upon the structures currently in place, or tear some of those buildings down in order to build new and modern facilities designed for 21st century learning.
Last week, that path forward may have been clarified just a bit when Colliers International, the firm hired to help guide the School Modernization Committee through its options when it comes to updating local schools, informed the SMC that most all of Cheshire’s current facilities can be refurbished to meet the needs of modern students. The notable exception may be Dodd Middle School.
The details have yet to be spelled out. The Committee, because of the pandemic and a controversy that helped stymie its work since the spring, is behind schedule. While some had hoped that recommendations could be made sometime this year, in time to include the first of what’s expected to be many recommended projects at referendum in November, the timeline has been pushed back.
But what Colliers explained recently seems to line up with what many have believed from the onset: Cheshire schools are for the most part outdated and in need of renovation, but not in need of demolition.
What the Town will do with Dodd appears to be the tricky part. Is it worth building a whole new school from scratch in order to incorporate a 6th grade? Would the costs of building new be offset by the options that such a move would provide, namely the ability to consolidate certain schools if the Town chose to do so? Could Dodd in its current form be updated so as to provide students with the opportunities available to those educated in more modern buildings?
There don’t seem to be many options when it comes to the middle school. The Town had explored purchasing an existing structure in Cheshire and renovating it to meet school requirements, but that plan never materialized and it doesn’t appear there are any local buildings available and capable of accommodating Dodd. That leaves Cheshire in the same place it has been for quite a while now — deciding how far, financially, it is willing to go in order to address these issues.
In some ways, all the delays may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the SMC and the Town as a whole. The world remains a very fuzzy place at the moment, and no one knows exactly what the future holds when it comes to Connecticut’s economy. On the one hand, had voters signed off on a costly project this year, the decision may have been a regrettable one given the turmoil about to confront local and state budgets. On the other hand, voters may have been in no mood to approve anything with a sizeable price tag this year, but they might be more amenable to the idea in 2021 if local, state, and national economies survive the pandemic and thrive afterwards.
In the end, it appears likely that all Cheshire schools are in for a major overhaul. The question is, does Dodd get a similar makeover or something completely new? That’s likely the first question Cheshire residents will be asked to answer … but not this year.