SOUTHINGTON — The Board of Education was presented a review of elementary school facilities at its meeting Thursday, putting forward several scenarios for new construction to balance student enrollment between schools district-wide. The determination will be put up for referendum in November and will bring changes to the district makeup.
Four different scenarios were presented before the board, some that included renovations to existing schools, the demolition of existing structures to make way for more modern facilities, and the closure of other schools — namely Flanders School on Victoria Drive. Kelley School on Ridgewood Road was also favored among the options presented as the best candidate to be demolished and rebuilt as a brand-new facility.
While separate from the construction projects themselves, all of the plans presented featured redistricting, with the aim of eliminating pocket districts and satellite areas to feed students between elementary and middle schools better, a process that could save the schools money long term in additional transportation costs.
While the members of the board didn’t decide on which plan they would choose, a plan must be finalized and presented to the Board of Finance by May so Town Manager Mark Sciota can make preparations to put the item on November’s referendum ballot.
“Let it be known that this is a feasibility study, no decisions have been made. It’s not a decision about how we came to this. This is just informational, to us, to make the decisions,” school board member Sean Carson said. “It’s critical to this community and to this board to make a decision.”
School Superintendent Steven Madancy expressed a desire to host public forums with the community, not just the parents, to inform them about what the different options entail and hear their input about what they’d like to see from the project.
“I think it’s beyond the parents — we have prospective parents that don’t even have students in our schools yet and we also have taxpayers that care about what they vote for at referendum and what’s going to be the return to the community if they support it,” Madancy said.
Time is of the essence, board members acknowledged, with just under three months to make a decision on the construction projects.
“There’s a lot to think about here, and we don’t have a lot of time,” board Chair Colleen Clark said.
The study, undertaken by the architecture firm SLAM Collaborative, analyzed the impact of future elementary school construction projects versus continued redistricting.
Three pocket districts have been created to re-route children into other schools — two to Flanders and the other to South End School, on Maxwell Noble Drive in Plantsville.
The push for the new construction was brought on by figures that enrollment in Southington schools would continue to grow overall in the coming years, pushing the older elementary buildings further past their capacity. Especially with the pending construction of more apartments in town, student numbers could swell.
To mitigate this, four different plans looked at the impacts between renovating, new construction, and adding extensions to pre-existing buildings.
Across three of the four plans, Flanders is slated to close, citing the building’s age as well as issues with the property that make it a less ideal candidate to keep or renovate the building.
Of the data collected by SLAM, their third plan would provide the best overall impact to the schools. The project would see the closure of Flanders, and the complete reconstruction of a new school on the Kelley site, with Derynoski School on Main Street slated for improvements in a future referendum.
The plan would even out student enrollment between the schools in town. The redistricting that would come from the plan has the potential to impact upwards of 19.1% of the district’s elementary students.
Madancy wished to separate the conversations about redistricting from the construction itself, noting that they can plan on redistricting whether or not the referendum does pass.
“I think we do need to start doing some initial planning for redistricting, because we’ve got issues right now. And those issues are costing us in transportation” said David Derynoski, a member of the board who has been through three redistricting situations during his 30-year tenure. “They’re painful, but they’ve always worked out fine. Once they’re done everyone seems to be happy and glad it was done. But I think it’s something we have to start looking at right now.”
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for March 23.