WALLINGFORD — The Board of Education’s Facilities Steering Committee held a meeting Thursday morning to go over next steps when it comes to the future of the district’s facilities.
Last October, the board received a report from Silver Petrucelli and Associates that outlined options for improvements to the schools.
They included consolidating the high schools in one building vs. renovating the two existing buildings. The board held two public forums last month, one virtual and the other in-person, to get feedback from community members regarding their thoughts on what the board should recommend.
Along with that, Superintendent Danielle Bellizzi, central office administrators, architects from Silver Petrucelli and some board members met with the Office of School Construction Grants and Review on Feb. 6, to go over the facilities study. At an operations committee meeting earlier this week, David Stein, principal architect, and Bellizzi presented some topics discussed at the Feb. 6 meeting including updates regarding the vocational agriculture center at Lyman Hall High School.
If the board chooses to consolidate Sheehan and Lyman Hall high schools into one building, that building will be built on the Lyman Hall property. This is partially due to the fact that Lyman Hall has the vo-ag center.
The town received a permit and funding, which means the building needs to be functional for 20 years so the district does not face penalties. Originally, Bellizzi indicated that the district would have to have the vo-ag center in use until 2028, however, she recently found out that year is incorrect.
“You start the clock to count 20 years from the date that the building was accepted at the Board of Education meeting,” Bellizzi said at the operations committee meeting.
“That date is Jan. 25 of 2010 … so that takes us to January of 2030,” Bellizzi said. “We have to keep that building in use through that date because if we do not, then I believe we have penalties for that.”
At the end of the operations meeting, it was decided that the facilities steering committee would meet this week to start making decisions regarding how to proceed with the decision about the future of the facilities.
Bellizzi kicked off the meeting, after public comment, by presenting a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, or SWOT, analysis regarding the two options for the future of the high schools.
She shared that the facilities study process began in 2018 when Salvatore Menzo was superintendent. In 2019, the district had a SWOT analysis done about the various options regarding the district’s facilities, so Bellizzi copied and pasted some of the relevant information from this analysis into a new document that she shared during the meeting.
Bellizzi started by sharing the analysis for renovating as new high schools, which means there will still be two high schools, but they would both be renovated. The estimated total project cost would be over $218 million, with the estimated total cost for the town being just over $123 million after state reimbursement.
Some strengths of this approach include more community access, it maintains the culture of the two schools and allows potential expansion of programming. However, the analysis does not address the projected decline in enrollment for the next 10 years, there is no change to the existing footprint and the district would have to pay for two high schools.
When going through the analysis, Kathy Castelli, school board member, emphasized the board looks at the educational opportunities for the students first and foremost.
“We’ve got to do the best we can educationally for our kids and yes, cost has to be a factor as well, but I just want to make sure that we’re looking at all possibilities,” Castelli said.
The project budget to consolidate the two schools by building a brand new building would be just over $239 million, with the town having to pay for just under $155 million.
Bellizzi emphasized the options will not impact class sizes.
“The class sizes are not going to be impacted, so we are going to make sure that we maintain the guidelines we have always maintained and continue to maintain now, which is up to 25 students in a class in the high schools, approximately, give and take,” Bellizzi said.
She added that course options vary year-to-year due to enrollment, student interest and course conflicts. However, a strength that the committee agreed upon for the one high school option is being able to offer more sections of some courses.
“I do think when you have one large school you are going to be offering additional sections of a course, so you’re going to give students more of an opportunity to take that course because there may be more offerings of it and there may be the potential for it to fit better into the child’s schedule,” Bellizzi said.
Along with that, other strengths included new facilities can attract new residents and the high school would be more energy efficient. Threats and weaknesses included one high school could be a drastic change to the community, the cost of establishing one school and transportation times can be longer for residents across town. Next steps
Bellizzi shared with the committee what the next steps will be once board members make a decision regarding which route they will take when it comes to the high schools.
“We then take (the decision) and move on to Town Council, so then I would ask to get on the agenda and we’ll have to share with Town Council what the Board of Education decided and why so we would share all of that information with them,” Bellizzi said.
The board and Town Council would have to discuss getting a request for proposal (RFP) for the architectural and engineering design firm and forming a building committee.
Before all of this, the board has to make its decision. Bellizzi shared a document with stakeholder feedback that will be given to the full board. The board is meeting altogether on Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m. in-person at Town Hall. It is possible that members could make their decision regarding the high schools at this meeting.
“In my 15 years on the board, this is the biggest decision I’ve ever made,” Castelli said. “My stomach is churning because I want to make sure we make the right decision here, the most educationally sound decision we could possibly make and keeping in mind the impact to the taxpayers, so I don’t want to rush this.”