Councilor presents new proposal for Cheshire school buildings

CHESHIRE — Town Councilor Jim Jinks recently presented what he calls the “Casertano Field Campus” school modernization plan to the council as the group continues to debate how best to address school infrastructure. 

So far, the council has been focused on the primary recommendation of the School Modernization Committee, referred to as Scenario 6. At the July 28 council meeting specific details were presented on the impact that proposal would have on taxpayers if adopted.

Jinks, however, said he wanted to present another option, one that he feels would address the expected increase in enrollment over the next few years with the need to have a 6-through-8-grade middle school, all for a lower cost than Scenario 6.

“I remained concerned that, with the Scenario 6 proposal, we will still have an enrollment issue,” Jinks said at the meeting. “My proposed plan …  is the cheapest option and a bit of a hybrid between Scenario 2A (the secondary proposal from the SMC) and 6, and I believe that it will better address all the issues we have coming down the pike.”

The Casertano Fields Campus Phase One proposal would look to combine elements of both the primary and secondary SMC proposals by focusing on the construction of a new Chapman School as well as a brand-new 6-through-8-grade middle school, which could be built on the Casertano property located off Jarvis Street. The existing Dodd Middle School building would be renovated and kept as a second middle school, while also being reconfigured to accommodate community spaces and offices.

Doolittle and Norton Schools would also be renovated under the proposal.

In this new plan, Jinks suggests that the town relocate the Cheshire Parks and Recreation Department as well as the Yellow House to the new community office spaces added to Dodd. 

“By doing so, we would generate some capital by taking those buildings offline and incorporating them into the middle school,” Jinks said. “The new middle school would have about 550 students and the (renovated) Dodd would have about 600.”

According to Jinks, the projected cost to the town for Phase One of his plan would be approximately $75.5 million, less that the SMC’s primary Scenario 6 proposal, which calls for two new elementary schools that would cost the town $87.4 million. Other features of the “Casertano Fields Campus” plan include demolishing the Humiston building and renovating Cheshire High School. 

After Jinks’s presentation, Councilor Don Walsh expressed his frustration with the timing of the proposal. 

“I wish this plan was presented to us during the SMC meetings,” said Walsh. “I am not entirely sure what to say about this being brought to us so last-minute. I wish we could vet this proposal better — that’s what we had the SMC to do. In my opinion, it is way too late for something like this to be considered.”

While Jinks understood Walsh’s concerns, he later told The Herald that he is afraid Scenario 6, as proposed right now, will be defeated at referendum. 

“I can’t control when I think of an idea, but I am concerned that we are headed to a failed referendum for the wrong project,” he said. “I was a little bit surprised that the Council seemed to be so put off by my idea, but why shouldn’t this be a good time to consider a new proposal?”

While Chairman Rob Oris agreed with Walsh that the timing of such proposal was a bit late, he suggested that a decision on Jinks’ proposal would be left up to everyone involved with the project. 

“If we want to truly consider the Jinks plan, I think it would make more sense to reconvene the SMC so that they could fully vet this scenario,” he said. “We need to be united in this decision, regardless of what it is, or else we will fail at the referendum. We made a process with the SMC, and now we have an additional plan. I think the SMC needs to see this plan.”

Jinks expressed that he had no issue with the SMC reconvening, and would like to see his plan fully vetted with the help of the group.

Fellow Democratic Councilor Peter Talbot agreed, stating that the proposal needs to be given a chance, regardless of how late it was presented. 

“A good idea is a good idea, regardless of when it is presented,” he said to The Herald. “I have heard from the public that there has been significant concern about building a new middle school over the two-elementary-school idea and (that is) addressed with the Jinks plan. His plan is a combination of both, and it deserves as much attention as the others.”

According to Jinks, the next step will be to present his plan to the Board of Education Planning Committee to discuss whether or not they will reconvene the SMC.

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