CHESHIRE — On Election Day, voters approved the $166.6 million school modernization referendum by a clear margin of 7,944 votes in favor to 5,487 votes against.
With a state grant reducing the town’s share of the financial burden for the projects by 43%, voters lent their support to the idea the time is right for investing in new buildings for an increasing number of students in the district.
Work has already begun on turning the vision of two new schools into a reality, as the town has formed a School Building Committee comprised of seven Cheshire volunteers. The group has now been officially appointed by the Town Council to shepherd the building process through all its subsequent phases unto completion.
That process, officials estimate, will take about three years to complete.
A joint Selection Committee made up of Board of Education Chairman Tony Perugini, Town Council Chairman Tim Slocum, Town Councillors Peter Talbot and Don Walsh, and School Board member Samantha Rosenberg was responsible for vetting candidates. Assistant Town Manager Arnett Talbot aided with setting up meetings and interviews. The group met six times and performed interviews of 23 total candidates before ultimately coming to agreements and making recommendations.
The seven selected individuals are Sarah Stevens-Morling, Chris Daddi, Chuck Neth, Richard Gusenburg, Megan Rockwell, Gregory Rosenblatt and Denis Rioux. Ex-officio members will be Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeffrey Solan and Town Manager Sean Kimball.
Explaining the process for choosing the committee during the Nov. 9 Selection Committee meeting, Slocum said that all the candidates were asked the same questions, which touched on areas of interest such as qualifications, conflict resolution philosophy, personalities, availability, and any possible conflicts of interest. By statute, at least one members is required to have construction industry experience, which both Daddi and Neth do.
Gusenburg and Neth previously served on the Town’s School Modernization Committee, which spent 2019 through 2021 discussing various options for how the town could pursue upgrades to local schools. The committee ultimately provided the Town Council and Board of Education with its recommendation, which served as the basis for the now-approved first phase of the plan.
Gusenburg, a former principal, also draws on his experience from the building of the Long Meadow Elementary School in Middlebury. He said he wants Cheshire’s new schools to serve three groups.
“One is the community,” he said. “We want to build a school that people are proud of, that’s sustainable and energy-efficient, with facilities that the community can use. Two is a building that’s good for teachers, that has enough storage space. Three, it has to be good for the kids.”
“We want a bright, colorful facility that they’re excited to come to every day.” he continued.
The Selection Committee members agreed that having such a talented pool of volunteers made choosing just seven a difficult task.
Walsh stated during the Nov. 15 Town Council meeting that “Every one of (the 23 candidates) would be capable of serving on this committee.” Referring to the candidates who were not selected, Walsh said he “would encourage them to stay involved and follow along with the meetings if they could, and maybe find other committees in town that could use your skill sets.”
Perugini echoed the praise for the candidate pool saying, “There was no poor choice. Everyone was willing to give something back to the community. It’s a special project for the community and we have community members stepping up to make it happen.”
The task ahead is straight-forward: the group will oversee the construction of a new north end elementary school at Marion Road and Jarvis Street, and a new Norton Elementary School on the school’s existing site. However, committee members indicated they are ready for the unexpected.
As Rosenberg reinforced during the Selection Committee Meeting on Nov. 9, “I want to thank everybody in advance for all the hard work coming up, because it’s going to be a lot of hard work.”
Among the first charges and responsibilities of the Committee are selecting a chair and vice-chair and establishing a meeting schedule. The meetings will be subject to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) rules and Robert’s Rules of Order.
At its first meeting, likely to be held by the end of November, the Committee will begin preparing a Request for Proposal for the project’s eventual architect. As with any Town bidding process, this will be subject to state and local laws. The eventual contract for an architecture firm will be negotiated by the Town’s Attorney, Jeffrey D’Onofrio, and will be subject to approval by the Town Council.