What Does School Modernization Entail?

What Does School Modernization Entail?


Editor, The Cheshire Herald:

 

As many in our community know, the Nov. 8th election in Cheshire will include a referendum asking voters whether they want to invest in construction of two new schools. This is the most important and impactful question that Cheshire residents have ever been asked. It is important to be informed on the issue. I hope this set of frequently asked questions about the project helps you to be informed and I encourage you to continue seeking more information.

Please visit www.cpsmodernization.com for more information or to submit additional questions.

What is the plan? If passed, the project will result in Cheshire building two new elementary schools. One school will be built on a new site in the north end of town and will replace Chapman (built in 1950) and Darcey School (built in 1947). The other school will replace Norton Elementary (built in 1955) and will use the existing lot. Construction is slated to begin in the fall of 2024 with students entering the new schools for the 2026-2027 school year.

Why do we need new schools? Housing turnover, new housing developments, and rising birthrates mean that Cheshire’s elementary school enrollment will increase by 25% over the next 10 years. Some schools are already beyond projections just two years in. All our elementary schools will be overcapacity between now (Darcey already is) and 2028. Additionally, Cheshire’s school infrastructure is old, outdated, and not fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our newest school was built in 1971. The average age of our schools is 72 years.

How did we end up with this plan? A School Modernization Committee (SMC), together with the BOE, the Town Council, and state and commercial experts analyzed the issues facing Cheshire and developed a set of solutions.

After a multi-year effort, the SMC Committee published their findings April 1, 2021 in a 69- page report. The committee recommended two new elementary schools, a plan subsequently endorsed by the Town Council, BOE, and even the Chamber of Commerce

Why not build a middle school? A new 6-to-8 middle school with was evaluated by the SMC. Some residents still favor this plan. However, the elementary school plan outscored the middle school plan 98.8 to 81.3 (out of 100) for two major reasons. The middle school plan does not adequately address the enrollment projections; it only forestalls overcrowding by a few years meaning that we would be spending millions and still adding trailers to elementary schools. Second, the resulting enrollment at a 6-to-8 middle school would be far higher than the standards established by State Office of School Construction Grants & Review — the body that determines construction reimbursement eligibility. In summary, the middle school plan would not have solved the enrollment problems and would have cost Cheshire an additional $37 million.

Why not renovate to keep costs down? The cost to renovate existing schools to current codes and educational standards and add on the space to accommodate projected enrollments is only $6 to $9 million less per school than building a brand-new school altogether. When you consider that renovations may not be eligible for the 50% state reimbursement and that new buildings have expected lifespans of 50 years versus renovation lifespans of 20 years, it is actually cheaper and better use of the taxpayers’ dollars to build new schools.

What is the cost? The total cost for the two buildings is $166.6 million. In the last legislative session, Cheshire’s typical reimbursement rate of 36% was temporarily adjusted to 50%, which will save Cheshire taxpayers $28 million. The new cost to Cheshire is $94 million, or $34 per month for the average household. Failure to act now jeopardizes the additional reimbursement and drastically increases costs.

Invest in our community and our children and vote yes to school modernization on Nov. 8.

 

Matt Colehour

Cheshire



 

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