STONINGTON — The Board of Finance deliberated for more than five hours Friday evening about requests in the 2019-20 budget, including the cost of renovations at the consolidated middle school and the new district office.
In the end, the board decided to cut $330,000, but further deliberations were expected.
Among items in the Board of Education’s Capital Improvement Plan was a request for $600,000 to put ductless air conditioning into classrooms and offices in Stonington Middle School, the new, consolidated middle school which will house all of the town’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
Peter Anderson, director of facilities for the school district, said the estimate was low compared with $2.5 to $2.9 million bids for converting the school to central air-conditioning.
Superintendent Van Riley said air conditioning was a necessity for creating a comfortable learning environment for students and teachers, because a hot room can exacerbate attention issues.
He also said safety standards have changed the usage of the windows.
“We used to be able to open all the windows and let the air blow through, but we don’t open the windows, on the first floor at least, so the whole school is airtight. We can’t allow access for the bad guys to come in,” he said. “And, because of that, we have the third problem, and that is mold issues, particularly at Mystic Middle School last summer.”
The middle school also has just 99 parking spaces and 89 of those will be needed for staff members, leaving only 10 spots for parents and visitors, which would be insufficient, Anderson said.
“It would cost $2.5 to $2.7 million to redo the entire parking lot, so we’re asking for a gravel area. We can get 20, 30 or even 50 spots in the back of the building,” he said, adding that the back of the school is adjacent to wetlands, making it difficult to add more parking.
Anderson also said it was critical for the town to solve the problem of excessive water causing dangerous, icy conditions in the school’s side parking, estimated at $813,000 to repair.
“There’s a significant chance of someone getting seriously hurt,” he said.
Lack of parking at the school has become a serious issue when there are events at the school, but Riley said middle school major events would be held at the high school starting in the fall, which would relieve some of the parking problems.
The district office, now located at 49 North Stonington Road in the Old Mystic Elementary School, will relocate to Pawcatuck Middle School, and will also require air conditioning and security doors. Besides the school administration, an alternative education center will also be located in the building for some of the town’s special education students.
Riley said it was important to complete the renovations before the beginning of the school year and urged Board of Finance members to approve the funding for the renovations.
“We really need this program to be open in the middle of August, we can’t wait for bonds,” he said.
After further deliberations, the board voted to cut the Board of Education’s budget $330,000, to $37,680,749. The committee chair, June Strunk, voted against the cut, citing the fact that the Board of Education’s budget represented a zero percent increase this year. She was questioning the legality of the cut, saying that attorneys she had consulted had told her that the board could not cut a budget that had been level-funded.