NORTH STONINGTON — When the Board of Education meets on March 19, it will likely recommend a preferred option to overhaul the town’s aging school buildings.
Based on discussions at Wednesday’s board meeting, some members clearly favored an option that requires the middle-high school complex to house grades seven to 12. The present space for the sixth grade would be demolished and a new gym with lockers and a stage would be attached to the existing building. A new addition would also be built as a science center.
At the elementary school, security needs to be upgraded and a solution found for the problem of using the multipurpose room as both a gym and cafeteria. At the middle-high school complex, there is a lack of women’s sports facilities, the science rooms are outdated, security needs to be addressed, and students must cross under Route 2 to reach the Gymatorium.
For this option to meet state funding requirements, the Gymatorium would have to be turned over to the town. The town could then make use of it, renovate it for lease or rent, or sell it.
The elementary school would be for prekindergarten to sixth grade. A new gym-assembly hall would be constructed and attached to the existing building and additional parking added. Classrooms would be shifted to put prekindergarten, kindergarten and first grade on the ground level, with the remaining classes on the second floor. The multipurpose room would be a dedicated cafeteria with additional rooms for a media and computer technology center.
“To me, that’s the option that makes the most sense,” said board member Darren Robert.
Superintendent of Schools Peter L. Nero stressed the need for action: “We’ve got to pick a direction and move in it, otherwise it isn’t going to get any cheaper.”
However, he recommended not voting on the issue until March 19, in order to give the architect time to answer any outstanding questions and to give members the time to thoroughly study the options.
The option, which includes renovations to all schools, would cost the town between $27.47 million to $31.25 million, and depends on the state granting the town a waiver to minimum space standards and funding requirements. The overall cost is projected to be $46.99 million.
Rusty Malik, a partner in the firm of QuisenberryArcari Architects of Farmington, made a presentation to the board to answer questions. Malik had worked closely with the board’s Ad Hoc School Building Committee to investigate the buildings, their physical status and ability to meet future needs. Some parts of the school buildings are more than 50 years old.
Malik said the state requires towns to approve the full amount of the project for bonding, but towns usually bond their portion of the project.
He also said that the state reimburses towns on at least a monthly or quarterly schedule, much different than its former practice of paying at the end of the job.
Three options were presented to the board: renovate both schools, with a new gym attached to the high school; renovate both schools with no new gym, and an enclosed walkway under Route 2; and build an entirely new complex.
The scenario of a new complex was established in order to establish a baseline of comparison that is required for state funding. Malik estimated the total cost at $87.5 million, with the town paying $57. 5million to $64 million, more than twice the cost of the other two options.
In the remaining two options, the elementary school would be for grades prekindergarten through six, and the work would be identical. A new gym-assembly hall would be constructed and additional parking added. Classrooms would be shifted such that prekindergarten, kindergarten and first grade would be on the ground level with the remainder on the second floor. The multipurpose room would be a dedicated cafeteria with additional rooms for a media and computer technology center.
The middle-high school would be for grades seven through 12. In another option, no gym or stage would be built on the high school campus, but the science center would proceed and the tunnel under Route 2 would be enclosed.
The board must choose an option, which then must be approved by the boards of finance and selectmen. If the selectmen deem it worthwhile, the proposal would be put before a town meeting for a vote. Malik said that if the town wants to apply for state funding, it must submit its application to the state by June 30.