Editor, The Cheshire Herald:
There is no compelling need to spend $166 million building two new schools. Current K-6 enrollment is 2,170. The most recent peak enrollment using existing buildings was 2,676. The projection for 2032 is only 2,476, which is 200 fewer than what existing buildings have accommodated. Current K-6 average class size is 18.9 with room for additional enrollment.
The age of a building is irrelevant if properly maintained. Fifty-three percent of Cheshire residences are over 50 years old. People don’t abandon their homes based simply on the year built.
Beware the word “old.” If the age of buildings is a concern in judging the potential education for their children, parents should shun the Ivy League along with Boston College, Tufts, Wesleyan, Williams, etc. All of them have “old” buildings. Our buildings have been successfully renovated repeatedly as the need arose. New uses have been found for space when enrollment changed. Darcey was “closed” due to enrollment declines but gained new life as Early Intervention Center and then Kindergarten Center.
Existing schools are on major traffic arteries for easy access. Marion Road via Waterbury Road will likely be the main entrance to new school, located one mile from the Southington border. Other access is over the Peck Mountain ridge via Jarvis Street — challenging on sunny days much less wintery ones. The proposed location is not convenient for anyone including emergency services. It was chosen since it was Town-owned and “free” despite being part of a 1997 $2 million “open space” purchase. Voters anticipated preservation not a new municipal building.
And “sustainability”? Why tear down or abandon three solid structures to build two new ones? The proof of their utility in educating children is that they have done exactly that, successfully, for decades.
It is hardly environmentally sound to build a huge building on beautiful open space that drains directly into the Ten Mile River, more than a third of which is wetlands and with a section designated as flood zone by FEMA.
In 2012 with total enrollment at 4,769 the BOE budget was $61.3 million or $12,864 per student. After a decade of low inflation, with 4,150 students our current budget is $80.6 million or $19,437 per student. Higher inflation has returned with predictable impact on budgets and taxpayers. Our country is entering the most dangerous combination of inflation and debt that we have ever experienced. It is no time to sign off on two unnecessary schools.
A better strategy is to use the existing Capital Budget process to modernize schools. Spending can be prioritized over time considering enrollment, growth in Grand List and the taxpayers. Taking on unprecedented debt all at once ties our hands. Once you commit to huge projects, there is no way out.
You must repay the bondholders even in the face of other demands on the municipal budget of which there will be many.
Renovate existing infrastructure and concentrate our money and energy on the academics in Cheshire’s classrooms whatever their age.
David C. Schrumm