Editor, The Cheshire Herald:
Over the past year, the School Modernization Committee has toured each of the schools in Cheshire and has met with the staff at each school to get a detailed look at issues related to the facilities. Our schools are old and the town has been spending many millions of dollars yearly in maintenance. As we looked closely at Chapman, Humiston and Darcey Schools in particular, we asked if they would be too costly to renovate and if some of their programs could be better served in other facilities.
When we met with the staffs of all three schools, they expressed a great deal of pride in the educational programs they were providing, but also pointed out the many serious facility issues that they experience daily. Chapman School is a K–6 elementary school built in 1950 with additions added in 1954 and 1962. As we toured the building, we noted many serious facility issues such as heating issues throughout the building, lack of adequate electrical availability for modern programs, lack of hot water in sinks, a library in the basement with no windows and adjacent to a band room and cafeteria with all the noise that entails, and student drop-off and bus areas that were a safety concern.
The Committee was particularly concerned with the lack of an elevator and the cost of installing one in this multi-story building. Presently, it is not possible for students or adults with mobility issues to access much of the building.
Humiston School is home to both our School District offices and the high school alternative education program. The building was constructed in 1912 with an addition added in about 1919, making it two buildings joined by a hallway. Both buildings have three levels and neither building has an elevator, making it extremely difficult for adults or students to access all the needed spaces.
Numerous serious facilities issues were noted as we toured the building and spoke to staff, making this 109-year-old school very costly to renovate. For instance, the gym is on the top floor, but cannot be used for running or ball playing due to a low ceiling and the noise it creates in the classrooms below. The bathrooms in the second floor classrooms are inappropriate for high school students and there are no staff bathrooms in the Alt Ed building. There is no library except a small closet space and there is no science lab. And the office for the Alt Ed building is in the basement with no direct sight of entrance and no nurse’s room in a building that accommodates high school students.
Darcey School was built in 1947. It is a small building that presently houses our pre-K classes and the Doolittle kindergarten students who cannot be accommodated in Doolittle due to lack of space. Doolittle staff expressed a strong desire, as part of our modernization efforts, for their kindergarten program to be at Doolittle School, rather than changing schools after their kindergarten year. The Darcey building, presently, is not fully handicapped accessible. The bathroom spaces for students and staff are not appropriate. Many classrooms, including those for special teachers such as PT, OT, speech, and remedial reading/math, are insufficient.
The SMC has had numerous discussions regarding these three buildings and has done analysis with our consultants on the cost to renovate these buildings. The School District and Town’s finance staff have identified large savings in potentially closing these three buildings. For that reason, the SMC has looked at either building a new Chapman School on the same site as the present building or building a new, larger elementary school to take the place of Chapman School. They have looked at moving the pre-K program at Darcey to one of our other elementary schools and making room for the Doolittle kindergarten students back at their home school; a decision both cost effective and educationally sound. And they continue to analyze options for accommodating the School District offices and high school alternative education programs in another facility.
Final decisions will be made in the coming weeks and the SMC wants to ensure that, in the end, the fine educational programs that are presently housed in Chapman, Humiston, and Darcey will continue and be enhanced with better facilities.
SMC Communications Committee