The Town may be closer to zeroing in on exactly which of the two School Modernization Committee proposals, presented in April, will ultimately receive support.
On Tuesday, June 15, the Town Council held a special meeting to further discuss the SMC proposals that lay out the initial phases of a long-term plan to improve the School District’s aging infrastructure. Of the two, several Councilors offered their support for the one that would see Cheshire build two new elementary schools, which would cost the town an estimated $159.4 million.
Council Chair Rob Oris provided a brief overview of the proposals, and suggested that the focus should be both on the lower-level schools as well as the finances involved.
“It is my recommendation that we focus on (the SMC’s) primary recommendation, which calls for the building of two new elementary schools on the north and south ends of town,” Oris said. “And we need to focus mostly on the economics of this, at least that is how I am looking at this …”
That primary option also calls for renovations to be made at Dodd Middle School as well as Doolittle and Highland Schools, and eventually the high school, all to be done during future phases of the overall plan.
Option two would involve a new 6–8 grade middle school and replacing the building that currently exists on the Chapman Elementary School property, for an estimated cost of $160 million.
Later phases of the plan also include renovations to Doolittle, Norton, Highland, and the high school.
“I think that it’s finally time to get off our butts and do something about these schools,” said Councilor Don Walsh. “Once we get the buildings in order, I don’t believe any school district in the state will be able to compete with us.”
Councilor Jim Jinks was the only Councilor to express reservations regarding the choice of a plan prioritizing new elementary schools as opposed to a new middle school, and requested that his fellow Councilors be open to the possibility that a plan calling for a new middle school could ultimately work financially.
“While I would have preferred we focus on the rebuilding of the middle school as the primary recommendation because of the public feedback I was getting, I am supportive of the work that the SMC has done,” he said. “I would like an opportunity to present to you all an alternative scenario where I think building a new middle school would be cheaper than building the two new elementary schools at some later date.”
Councilor Tim Slocum differed with Jinks, however, and stated that the primary option appears to be the “clear” choice for the Town.
“… The north end (of town) is about to have a huge enrollment problem, which was surprising to me,” he said. “… What we need to figure out is what is going to happen in the next three to four years, because the referendum is going to happen more likely next year.”
Oris and the rest of the Council have agreed to meet every two weeks to continue deliberations on the SMC proposal, with the next meeting yet to be determined.