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Members of public show interest in Cheshire committee to study modernizing, closing school buildings

Members of public show interest in Cheshire committee to study modernizing, closing school buildings

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CHESHIRE — More than 30 residents are interested in joining a new study group charged with developing a plan for modernizing the town’s school buildings. 

The committee is tasked with presenting a school facilities plan to the Town Council and Board of Education by Sept. 15, 2020. 

The committee would consist of 11 members — three of them from the Town Council, three from the Board of Education and five representatives from the public.

The Town Council last month approved a resolution to form the committee by an 8 to 1 vote. Thomas Ruocco cast the lone opposing vote.

Councilor Sylvia Nichols said she was delighted so many people are interested in joining. 

“That shows it’s an issue we need to pay attention to,” Nichols said, adding she hopes the committee is balanced with members who bring experience as educators, parents, building professionals and more.

“We should choose people who have a wide variety of skills to contribute,” Nichols said. “I think it’s important that there’s diversity on the committee and a lot of viewpoints.”

Discussions regarding the town’s school buildings began several years ago, but have so far faltered. In 2017, the Town Council voted down a proposal for a new middle school building. In 2016, the town commissioned a study on the future of school buildings that included a mix of renovations, new construction and school closures.

Nichols said it would be up to the committee to develop a new plan. Whether schools are renovated, closed and replaced would be up to the committee. She is not in favor of brand new buildings for all of the schools, but is not opposed to new school construction where it’s needed.

“There has to be careful judicious use for some of our facilities,” she said. “I think there needs to be a plan. And coordinating with parks and rec needs to be part of it.” 

If the committee decides, and the Town Council and Board of Education agree, a plan that involves closing school buildings needs to consider the cost, Nichols said. 

“If we eliminate a school building, how much is that going to save us? Do we sell it, raze it or put something else there? Do we use it for another town facility? That all has to be part of the plan,” Nichols said.

Sam Rosenberg, a parent who teaches in another school district and is a candidate for the Board of Education, said she hopes however the plan is developed, that it is a collaborative effort between the committee, Town Council and Board of Education. 

Rosenberg noted that previous efforts failed because there wasn’t much collaboration.

“This is a good step,” she said. “I hope they make the decision soon to get the ball rolling. The longer we take at this, the longer we’re stonewalling.” 

Jim Jinks, a Democratic party candidate for Town Council, said he hopes if he is elected to the council he can also be a member of the committee.

“That’s an important thing to me,” Jinks said. “If the council and the (Board of Education) work together that is definitely something I am in favor of.”

Town Council member Tom Ruocco, who is vacating his seat on the council when the current term ends, said he is not on board with the effort to modernize schools. 

“I’m not on board with these multimillion dollar projects to go out and do remodeling,” Ruocco said. “These are just really expensive propositions to the town. I don’t know if there’s a lot of taxpayer support. I think they need to focus on the kids’ grades. And that doesn’t require multimillion dollar remodeling.”