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EDITORIAL: Cheshire plans future of school buildings in the midst of a pandemic 

EDITORIAL: Cheshire plans future of school buildings in the midst of a pandemic 

An editorial from the Cheshire Herald:

The Town’s School Modernization Committee met (virtually) this week for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest, and, boy, have things changed.

The last time the group discussed the Cheshire School District’s infrastructure future, the world hadn’t effectively shut down and 400,000 people hadn’t filed for unemployment in Connecticut. But that’s the reality the committee faces today, one that offers as uncertain a future as the nation has confronted in decades.

So, what is the right course of action? How should the Town go about putting together a sweeping (and expensive) proposal to address Cheshire’s ever-aging school buildings while also grappling with an economic downturn that could not months but years?

The answer is the same for this committee as it is for the Town as a whole. Work must continue. Plans must be made. A detailed analysis of what school buildings require to bring them more fully into the 21st century must be completed. But all of it must be done with this in mind: The economy is likely to look very different in moving forward, and proposals should reflect that.

Whatever comes out of the School Mod Committee meetings, it was always going to be phased in, spreading the work and cost over a period of years. But now, that timeline may be pushed back even further, and cheaper, more cost-effective work moved to the front of the line.

Maybe, instead of including projects for consideration at referendum this November, the Town will have to wait until next year. Perhaps instead of implementing any part of the plan in 2020 or 2021, the School District will have to simply continue basic maintenance work.

Of course, we don’t know what we don’t know, and that fact has been hammered home on numerous occasions during the course of the coronavirus crisis. We are, all of us, reacting as best we can to a fluid situation that provides no clues as to what tomorrow, let alone next year, will look like.

It may be that the economic downturn currently being predicted by so many will turn out to be less calamitous than is feared. After all, as bad as the current public health crisis has been, many feared it would be far worse, resulting in many more thousands dead. We have, thankfully, and for the moment, avoided those worst-case scenarios.

When the state begins to open back up, the economy may also open, and a V-shaped recovery may occur. 

If that’s the case, then the Town can look to be more aggressive in pursuing its infrastructure projects and move forward feeling more confident.

But as we know, it is usually better to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

When the dust begins to settle, the Town, as well as the state, will be in a better position to accurately assess the damage done by the coronavirus. Until then, we should be expecting that, just like our lives at the moment, big-ticket projects will have to be put on hold for the time being.