CHESHIRE — What was intended to be a brief overview of investments in the existing public school buildings turned into a larger discussion about how the buildings are currently used and the financial impact of school modernization.
The School Modernization Committee, meeting for the second time Monday night, is tasked with developing a plan for modernizing school buildings. The committee’s deadline to present a plan to the Town Council and Board of Education is Sept. 15, 2020.
On Monday, the committee did not take any votes, but discussed the possibility of hiring a consultant to help develop a plan.
School officials provided a timeline of the recent investments made to improve school buildings. Another overview showed recent student enrollment figures and projections for future enrollment.
The town has more than 4,200 public school students.
That number is down from 5,174 students during the 2006-2007 school year. Different enrollment projections conducted in 2016 had forecast either a possible increase in enrollment over a 10 year period or a decline. One projection showed enrollment declining to 3,643 by the 2025-2026 school year. Another had enrollment increasing to 4,477.
An updated projection shows the district's enrollment is on pace for a more slight increase — to 4,283 students.
Humiston School, the oldest building, houses the district's central office and alternative high school program. The building was constructed in 1912. Meanwhile, the town's newest building, Highland Elementary School, was completed in 1971.
The town has made investments to improve its school buildings. Voters this past November approved projects that include boiler replacements in several elementary school buildings and window replacements at Cheshire High School.
Vincent Masciana, chief operating officer for the public schools, and Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Solan said that many of the previous capital projects were designed to bring school buildings into code compliance and improve security.
The town's current reimbursement, via the state's School Construction Grant program, for new school construction is 36.43%. The current reimbursement for renovations is 46.43%.
The deadline to get on the priority list of school construction projects for the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees the grant, is June 30, 2021.
Solan called that timeline “pretty aggressive,” if the committee were to develop a plan to be considered among the next cohort of projects.
Town Council Vice Chairman Paul Bowman suggested the committee needs to know the Board of Education's vision for education in the future before it makes a final recommendation on renovations, closures or new construction.
“We have to design around that vision.... What Cheshire needs to have,” Bowman said.
Town Council chairman Rob Oris Jr. agreed the committee needs to look at what's best for education, but cautioned the plan has to be affordable.
“We have to do what's best for these schools. But it has to be based in fiscal reality. If we cannot marry the two, this project will be dead upon arrival,” Oris said, referencing the previous proposal for a new middle school building that the Council rejected two years ago.