Southington leaders planning for elementary school changes



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SOUTHINGTON — Education leaders could make a decision on what to do with three elementary schools in need of renovation next year with construction farther out than that.

Earlier this year, Colliers Project Leaders presented options for improving Derynoski, Kelley and Flanders schools, the district’s three oldest elementary buildings. The options included: renovating all three schools, renovating Derynoski, closing Flanders and building a new Kelley, and closing Derynoski and building new Flanders and Kelley schools.

After school leaders pick a plan, there are still town requirements and state deadlines to meet for construction reimbursement.

Colleen Clark, an education board member and elementary schools facilities committee chairwoman, said the elementary schools’ future is a major decision.

“I want to make sure we get input from all parties,” she said. “When you have something like that, it’s going to take time.”

Town approval

Board members presented Colliers’ plans to the council earlier this month. While there is no recommendation from the board yet, Clark said she wanted to inform councilors who would ultimately vote whether or not to send any school construction projects to referendum.

Plans range in cost to the town of $57 million to more than $100 million. The state would pay about half the costs under some of the scenarios.

State deadlines

Each year, the state Office of Policy and Management compiles of list of school construction projects that met its criteria. That list is recommended to the legislature and governor for approval.

The deadline is June 30 to be considered for the following fiscal year’s legislative agenda. Kosta Diamantis, OPM deputy secretary and school construction and grants director, said it’s usually one of the last items voted on in a session. If Southington were to apply by the June 30, 2022 deadline, the General Assembly could vote on it by the spring of 2023. Diamantis tries to get construction completed within a few years of grant approval.

He’s emphasized getting projects done faster and working more closely with towns.

“These projects were taking seven, eight nine years to get done. We don’t let that happen here,” Diamantis said.

Clark said she’s glad the state is getting involved in plans earlier. She was on the board when the town’s middle schools were renovated and the state was less involved.

“If you don’t show them the plans until the last minute, you don’t know if the plans are even viable,” Clark said. “It’s an involved process, and I’m glad they want to get involved earlier.”

Money for the town

OPM recommends funding for new or renovated schools based on demographics and a community’s wealth. For Southington, that’ll mean a reimbursement rate of 55.36 for renovations and 45.36 for new construction.

To approve a request for funding, Diamantis said the state needs to receive information on projected enrollment, the age of school buildings, busing routes, conditions of existing buildings and more. Without that information, Diamantis said it’s too early to tell what might be the best plan for Southington.

The age, condition and layout of existing buildings helps determine whether a town builds new or renovates.

“There are times when since some of these schools were built, the codes have changed too much. You can’t convert these schools,” Diamantis said.

He said state officials work with local districts to come up with a cost-effective solution.

“If they save money, we save money and we’re all happy about that,” Diamantis said.

Zaya Oshana Jr., a board and school facilities committee member, said Colliers was advising on what the state may and may not consider eligible for reimbursement. Oshana was confident that the town would be able to design buildings that would meet the state’s guidelines and meet students’s needs. Building schools without state aid would be a major hit to taxpayers.

“Buildings schools is not cheap,” Oshana said.

Small schools, steady enrollment

Education leaders talk about a critical mass of students that help a school, Diamantis said. That’s about 400 students, a number that’s used when making consolidation plans.

Flanders is a medium-sized school with 286 students in the 2018-19 academic year. Plantsville, Strong and South End schools all had fewer students.

Flanders hasn’t been renovated in decades.

In 2019, the Board of Education hired the consultant firm Milone & MacBroom to conduct an enrollment study and make recommendations on the future use of Kelley and Flanders elementary schools. 

Milone & MacBroom recommended closing Flanders.

For the district as a whole, the 10-year projection calls for roughly steady enrollment. Consultants included a range between 6,490 and 5,936 students by the 2028-29 academic year, but thought the middle range between those high and low projects to be the most reliable. That estimate showed slightly decreasing school population over the next five years and a slight uptick in the following five.

The school facilities committee has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 22 at 4:30 p.m. via video conference. For information on how to attend, visit www.southington.org.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ



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