CHESHIRE — The School Modernization Committee recently presented its proposal for Phase 1 of an expansive infrastructure plan to the Town Council and the Board of Education.
The committee presented two potential scenarios — one which involves the construction of two new elementary schools on opposite sides of town, while the other calls for the demolition of Chapman Elementary School, construction of a brand-new school on the property, and construction of a middle school for grades 6 to 8.
Option 6 — the one favored by the SMC — calls for the construction of a new K-through-6th-grade school on the north end of town that would cost between $51.5 and $62.5 million, and a second school at the south end that would cost between $55.6 and $66.8 million. The exact locations of the two schools has yet to be determined.
The construction of the two new schools and the demolition of Norton School would complete Phase 1 of Option 6, costing, in total, between $107.1 and $129.3 million.
For Option 2A, the new 6-through-8th-grade middle school would be built — location yet to be determined — at a cost of between $112.4 million and $136 million, as well as a new Chapman School, which would be K through 5th grade and would cost the town anywhere from $40.3 million to $49.1 million.
Chuck Warrington, a representative from Colliers International, the firm managing the project, told the council and school board why his firm feels the work is necessary.
“Based on the projected enrollment for the next eight years, most of the schools in the district will either be at or exceeding capacity,” Warrington said during the Monday meeting. “The average age of any of the school buildings in town is roughly 70 years old, and we have projected that each school in the district will experience growth in the next few years, with Chapman and Highland seeing the strongest growth trends.”
After the presentation, Councilor Peter Talbot asked how the group had come up with some of its data to determine how to prioritize projects.
“… There is obviously a lot to digest here, even after having received in advance a copy (of the proposal) … But I was curious about the enrollment projections,” he began. “… Can someone speak to how (design firm) Milone & MacBroom got their projections numbers?”
“NESDC (New England School Development Council) is the group that (Cheshire Public Schools) uses for our projections,” answered Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan. “Actually, they’re slated to provide us an update on their projections. They usually do that in the spring. …”
Solan went on to explain that NESDC uses birth rates to calculate projections, and that the district is seeing a significant “jump in birth rate.”
School board member Faith Ham brought up her concern over a lack of attention to Humiston School, and the fact that the longer it remains ADA non-compliant, the more expensive it will be to address.
“I am worried that there is no plan in place for Humiston given all the issues that it faces,” Ham said. “It is a nearly 100-year-old school.”
Fellow board member Tim White pointed out that, while many schools in the district are over 70 years old, they have all had some sort of modern upgrade that should not be ignored.
“It’s a bit misleading to say that they haven’t been touched in over 70 years because, for example, the high school started off as an L-shape when it first opened, and now it’s a figure eight, so clearly some construction was done to modernize it,” White said.
White also expressed his concern about Norton Elementary School now being considered a candidate for demolition.
“I just know from the parents I have talked to over at Norton, when I bring up the fact that Norton is being considered to be demolished they just have such a sad look on their face,” he said. “It’s going to be a really hard sell to these Norton families.”