Cheshire focused on elementary school plan

CHESHIRE — The Town Council and Board of Education were presented with the first renderings of potential test fits for the new Norton Elementary School proposed to be built as part of the School Modernization plan.

The council and board have seemingly decided to go with Scenario 6 as the preferred modernization plan. It will include rebuilding Chapman and Norton Elementary Schools. The plan would also include renovating all other schools in the district except for Darcy School, which would be demolished in later phases of the scenario.

The council was also presented with Scenario 2a, which would include creating a new 6th to 8th grade middle school and rebuilding Chapman Elementary School on the existing property.

Prior to hearing the details of the test fits from the consulting firm Colliers International, Board of Education Chairman Tony Perugini explained to the council that the board would be satisfied with either Scenario 6 or 2a.

“We came up with both plans because we don’t see an issue with either of them. We know some board members prefer one over the other, but the majority of the board did seem to go with the preferred Scenario 6 option,” Perugini said. “For me, it’s not just Phase One that we need to be paying attention to. It’s Phases Two and Three that are important as well, because what we don’t want is to pass Phase One in referendum, and then never get anything past Phase One done.”

Board member Adam Grippo agreed with Perugini, stating that he is also concerned about the completion of additional phases. 

“My main concern is the totality of the SMC plan, then affordability,” he said. “Every school building needs some sort of renovations, (and) during the next 20 years we will need to bring the current school system up to the 21st century (standard) and the current preferred plans were based off of student population projections, which are subject to change.”

Perugini confirmed that, there are currently no issues with enrollment at the middle school or high school levels, but acknowledged that problems may be looming.

Chuck Warrington, a representative from Colliers, gave the Board and Council the enrollment projections for the high school and middle school. 

Enrollment at Dodd Middle School as of October 2020 was 633 students. In fiscal year 2020-2021 the enrollment goes down to 586 students. In years 2029-2030, projected enrollment at Dodd would reach its peak at 789 students. Full capacity of the building now is 906 students.

For the high school, projected enrollment currently stands at 1,138 students, and for fiscal year 2029-2030 it is predicted to be at 1,262. The high school’s current capacity is 1,666 students.

David Symonds, a representative from Moser Pilon Nelson Architects, presented information regarding test fits for the new Norton Elementary School located on the existing property. 

“In doing our test fits, we look for a clear delineation between the school and construction activity,” Symonds explained. “For this two-story scheme, we have an access pad, vehicular traffic patterns, safety for pedestrians and vehicular traffic, bus and parent drop-off and pickup areas, play areas, storm drainage coming from some of the surrounding neighborhoods, a right-of-way to Sharon Drive, a bus loop, and one-way traffic is limited to buses at the start and end of each day …”

Symonds displayed an “L-shaped” building configuration that would be the base for the new Norton Elementary School. 

“From a construction standpoint, all the activity will be on the north side of the site,” he described. “… The ‘L’ scheme has a two-story classroom wing on the south side. For public nighttime use of the building, there will be secondary entrances off the larger parking lot for access … The ‘L’ shape creates a safer and more secure play area for the children.”

Councilor Peter Talbot expressed his concerns about the lack of public input on either scenario. 

“We havent heard from the public. I know that some Board of Ed members have said that neither scenario is a bad scenario, and we’ve talked about needing a scenario that can get the support of our residents, and that can pass,” he said. “… We have not heard from the public and we have not done anything to get the public’s input on which scenario that we should be backing. I can tell you anecdotally that the public that I’ve heard from supports a 6th-through-8th grade middle school …”

Councilor Faith Ham expressed frustration with the public’s involvement in the process. 

“… We had three meetings this summer to talk about these options and to bring them to the community,” she said. “We have more people here at the meeting tonight, including board and council members, than we had in all of the meetings, which is really kind of discouraging. I was looking for big crowds, because I thought this was an important issue …”

Councilor Don Walsh agreed with Ham’s sentiments, pointing out that the public had many opportunities to attend the meetings, yet they did not attend in large numbers. 

“I would love to hear more input from the public, but I don’t know how much more input we’re going to get,” he said.

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