NORTH STONINGTON — Voters will be going to the polls on Monday to vote on the latest plan to improve the town’s school buildings. The proposal is not as large as the one rejected by voters May 5, by a 694- 457 margin. That plan would have given town officials the authority to borrow $46.99 million to improve the elementary, middle and high schools.
The new plan is less comprehensive and less expensive. It consists of meeting state code requirements, the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and Title IX sex discrimination rules, and improving building security, with some improvements to several antiquated science facilities.
The new plan is expected to cost $40.52 million, with the town paying from $22.42 million to $25.87 million and the state picking up the remainder. The town’s payment would be $4 million to $9 million less than the plan that was defeated.
The new plan still proposes a pre-kindergarten through sixth grade at the elementary school and includes a gymnasium with a stage, storage and community entrance lobby. The lower level would house pre-K, kindergarten and first grades and offices. Grades two through six would be on the upper level.
Traffic circulation will be improved and additional parking would be provided at the gymnasium entrance.
For the middle and high schools, renovations will include science labs, a cafeteria and kitchen. Existing space would be changed to accommodate the music and computer and graphics programs. The gymnasium and locker rooms in the existing Gymatorium building would be renovated to meet program and code requirements, and the building would be retained by the Board of Education.
All schools would meet current codes and provide a building and infrastructure with a 20 year “as new” life. The building would be fully abated for hazardous materials, and acoustics, security and high performance building standards would be built into the renovation and additions.
Daniel Spring, chairman of the Board of Finance, voiced support for the project based on his assessment of the town’s financing and debt. Spring said the estimated tax-rate increase for the average homeowner would be $2.92 per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $488, for the school project.
The 50-year-old schools have several infrastructure and security issues and do not meet modern building code, health code, or educational standards. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the accrediting body for the region, placed Wheeler High School on a warning list in 2008. Another visit is scheduled for the next school year, and if nothing is done there is a chance Wheeler could lose its accreditation.
The meeting brought out many supporters of the project but also drew out detractors as well.
“If every town gets state reimbursement then it’s a wash,” said Richard Chiccola. “We’re still paying for it whether it’s state money or federal money, and enough is enough.”
Other residents spoke of the difficulty of living in town on a fixed income.
As with the last proposal, Selectman Bob Testa did not support his colleagues’ choice to put the matter before voters, but was outvoted 2–1.
He said there were still a lot of unanswered questions.