Editorial: Looking To The SMC Once Again

Editorial: Looking To The SMC Once Again

Things are pretty fluid at the moment.

That’s been true for the last few years. It’s been hard to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of the world through a pandemic, conflicts, contentious elections, and economic turmoil. The most any of us can do is hold on and hope things begin to settle down.

Most of what is occurring doesn’t directly relate to local politics. The war in Ukraine or the tensions in China as a result of their continuing COVID-19 restrictions aren’t likely to be big topics of conversation at the next Town Council meeting in Cheshire. And yet, as we’ve learned time and again, everything is connected.

As Cheshire begins to finalize plans for the first phase of an expansive school infrastructure modernization project, the ground underneath them is beginning to shake a bit. Inflation has become arguably the biggest concern in America, and it’s impacting everything from how much it costs for a dozen eggs at the grocery store to how much labor and materials are expected to cost once the Town is ready to actually begin work on this new endeavor.

At last week’s Council meeting, members were informed that the price tag for the proposed two new elementary schools in Cheshire — one in the north end and one in the south — is likely to be far costlier than originally imagined. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the proposed placement of the Town’s birth-to-three program in one of the new schools, but inflation is playing a large role. Simply put, everything costs more now than it did just a year ago. If you want to build a new school, you’re going to have to pay for the man-hours and materials, none of which comes very cheap at the moment.

Given how much estimates have gone up due to the change in on-the-ground realities, we agree with Councilor Peter Talbot that it may be a good idea for another bi-partisan committee to resume regular meetings as a way to try and stay out in front of issues. The Council and Board of Education are tasked with the business of the community and, while each body, as well as individual representatives, have dedicated a lot of time and effort to this project already, having one body solely committed to reviewing it would seem like a good idea as the community heads quickly towards some spring deadlines to finalize phase one.

The committee could not only review any changes in estimates, but also debate ways in which projected price increases could potentially be offset. Those discussions could then lead to recommendations, just as they did last year when the School Modernization Committee presented the Town with the very project outline with which the Council and BOE is now moving ahead.

Decisions have to be made soon. There are deadlines upcoming in the next few months for the Town to submit what it wants to do and have everything ready for a referendum come November. Then, it will be up to the voters to decide whether to move forward with the project right now or not.

This is going to be arguably the biggest ask of taxpayers in the town’s history. The plan is to spend millions of dollars over many years in order to bring Cheshire schools into the 21st century. One can already feel the need for better educational spaces and more room for a growing student body pressing against the inflation concerns of the moment. Having a committee comprised of Council and BOE members whose sole focus is this project would seem like a good idea, not only for the next two or three months, but also in lead-up to what will undoubtedly be one of the most anticipated local referendums in modern memory.

Whatever work the committee can do will only benefit the Town moving forward.


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