Discussion regarding school modernization efforts, and the bold proposal to transform Cheshire’s school buildings into 21st-century facilities over the next decade or so, has raged for years now.
There’s been quite a bit of talk. There’s been plenty of debate, over everything from whether the town’s lone middle school should be first up on the to-do list of renovations to how much money the local taxpayer should be expected to pay for the work. And all of it seems to be coming to a head as we approach what is expected to be a referendum on the first phase of this proposal come November.
But there’s quite a bit of work that still needs to be done before that time. For instance, we know that the Town is moving forward with its two-elementary school plan, which will include two new buildings in the north and south ends of Cheshire. What those facilities are expected to look like, however, remains somewhat of a mystery, as no renderings or schematics have been created to show to the public.
At a recent meeting between members of the Board of Education and Town Council, a discussion was had as to how best to market the project to the general public. After all, members of the Council and BOE can believe school modernization is vital, but if the majority of voters who turn out to polling stations in November disagree, it won’t much matter.
It appears a Building Commission will soon be formed by the Town and that schematics will be developed to show people exactly what kind of bang they can expect for their buck. We hope the schematics/renderings are detailed, so that residents are provided as accurate a view of what this project hopes to accomplish when all is said and done.
There was also a suggestion that examples of recent school construction in other communities could be shown to the public to give people a real-world idea of what Cheshire is striving for with its new buildings. That would seem to be a worthwhile endeavor, as it would again give people a true understanding of what to expect.
Yet, there’s another important aspect to all of this — public involvement. The Town needs to show, in detail, what it is taxpayers will be asked to fund in the coming years, but the taxpayers also need to show up at meetings, contact local representatives, and be more involved in the coming weeks.
This is a horse that is beaten to death every year, whether it be in lead-up to the passage of the budget or come Election Day. Public participation is essential to helping local leaders understand what “the people” want, and the more that sentiment is expressed, the better chance leaders have of proposing projects that will come with the support needed to get them done.
This will be the most expensive proposal ever put forward to the community. Phase One is, by very definition, only the beginning, as the Town will need to address all of its remaining schools in the years to come. Something this big requires all hands on deck, and while there’s been some interaction between the public and the governing bodies making these decisions, much more is required.
We’ve seen members of the public pack Town Hall in recent memory, whether it was for issues pertaining to bullying in schools or proposed subdivisions in Cheshire neighborhoods. The more people who express their viewpoint in lead-up to November, the better.
Obviously, the ultimate decision will come at referendum when the votes are finally cast. Only then will we get a full picture of what people truly want. But until then, the public needs to get more involved in these discussions.