The most important question facing Cheshire at the moment is the same one facing the rest of the nation: when will we emerge from our year-long limbo imposed on us by the pandemic?
It’s the question that hangs over everything, from the education of youngsters to the travel plans of families. Without an answer, everyone feels stuck in this horrible mud, because of a virus that isn’t going to go away until it’s made to by a combination of personal actions and vaccinations.
But as Cheshire waits for an answer to the question of the pandemic, it’s in the process of trying to answer the second most important item on the community’s agenda. It’s trying to chart a path forward for school modernization, and leading the way is a dedicated group of volunteers who make up the School Modernization Committee.
The task is to come up with a plan to present to the Town Council for review, with the hopes that the initial phase of that plan can be presented to the voters at referendum this fall. The original deadline for that proposal was March 1. That is no longer the case.
A lot happened at the Feb. 17 meeting of the SMC, but the big news is that the group decided to push its deadline back all the way to June 1. That means the SMC could technically continue debating proposals for another three months, before finally bringing them to the Council for review.
We hope the SMC accelerates that process … dramatically.
Just because the group has extended its deadline to June 1 doesn’t mean it must present a proposal to the Council on that date, and given the importance of this issue, the time it will likely take for the Council to review and debate the specifics, and the necessity to fully educate the public about the plan and allow ample time for feedback, the first of June should be viewed as the worst-, not best-case scenario.
Questions had already been raised by some on the SMC about the viability of presenting a plan to the Council by March 1, even before the most recent hiccup was discovered regarding enrollment data, so it’s likely that the Committee would have chosen to push its original deadline, regardless. However, it’s clear the group needs more time to cross all its t’s and dot all its i’s, so giving itself three more months of wiggle room makes sense.
But in an effort to make sure nothing is rushed on the front end, consideration must be given to ensuring that things aren’t then rushed on the back end of this process. As has been pointed out on a number of occasions, school modernization promises to be one of, if not the biggest undertakings ever in Cheshire, one that’s going to cost millions of dollars in both the short- and long-term. Because of that, the Town must juggle the need to be meticulous in making sure that all issues are addressed and all problems foreseen before moving forward, while also understanding that the longer the process takes to get started, the longer — and more expensive — it will be to complete.
The SMC has work to do, and since they are in charge of the heavy lifting, it’s appropriate that they take the time to make sure everything is done right. But the community would be best served if the group was presenting its findings to the Council closer to the beginning of spring rather than the beginning of summer.
Those working on this enormous and important project are volunteers, deserving of the community’s thanks. When all is said and done, it will be their efforts that make up the backbone of the projects to come. But the process must move forward now, quickly and unfettered. March 1 may have always been a little too ambitious. June 1 is too pessimistic.