Building committee to be formed for school building projects
Published 3:28 pm, Thursday, May 23, 2013
A building committee comprised of town officials and residents will be formed to address the proposed projects at Tokeneke and Royle elementary schools after the projects were approved by the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 21.
"We're in a situation where two years ago, we were going to max out at 110 or 111 sections, then trickle down to 104 by 2014," Superintendent Stephen Falcone told the Board of Selectmen. "But right now we're at 110 sections and based on kindergarten enrollment, we'll be at 111, 112 sections."
The elementary schools are being used to near capacity with next to no space for growth, Falcone said.
Tokeneke Elementary School can be considered over the limit if enrollment was based on the amount of classrooms that were intended in the school.
Special classrooms, such as those for music, have been converted into regular ones to accommodate additional students.
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Much of Falcone's presentation focused on the enrollment projections, which he said have continued to be lower than actual enrolled students, leading Selectman David Bayne to ask how confident the Board of Education is in the increasing enrollment projections.
"You keep saying that we don't really know what the future is going to bring," Bayne said.
"I'm more concerned that we're coming in low," Falcone responded. "My concern is that if there is another bulge (in enrollment), then I'm going to be the guy coming back to say we need to look at (adding more space)."
Bayne noted that he does support the projects, but that more than a year ago, the Board of Finance said the Board of Education would not come forward with any multimillion-dollar projects.
"I'm just looking for comfort that if we build it, we will need it," Bayne said.
Board of Education Chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross explained that when the Board of Finance made that statement about no major future projects more than a year ago, the Kinsett properties were initially intended to be "age restrictive" and that there would be no children moving into those homes, however that is no longer the case. The Kinsett properties is a newly constructed neighborhood with 62 homes.
Additionally, Hagerty-Ross added, the Board of Education has "no idea what to expect" what will happen at the recently purchased 8.8-acre property owned by Thomas Golden near the Noroton Heights Train station.
Stevenson asked Falcone after his presentation of the two projects if to Board of Education had explored any other options to address the projected increasing enrollment.
Outsourcing the Early Learning Program, purchasing already-built commercial property and renovating the current senior center on Edgerton Street were explored, Falcone said. However, they were not as cost effective as renovating and expanding the two elementary schools. Falcone said outsourcing the ELP program was the "last option (the Board of Education) wanted to take," because they want to keep the students within the district.
Currently the ELP programs are housed in classrooms in different elementary schools. The addition at Tokeneke would allow the program to be housed under one roof.
Adding another building, whether it be built or a converted commercial space, to the school district was also cost prohibitive, Falcone said, as it increased the overhead costs of the Board of Education by needing to pay additional maintenance and administrative staff, as well as incurring more insurance costs.
What the board ultimately found was that there was "under-utlized space" with the common room at Royle Elementary School.
Selectman John Lundeen asked Falcone what the process was for addressing the space on Edgerton Street.
"What we saw was that if there was to be a renovation, it would have to be a big renovation or the building would need to be torn down and reconstructed," Falcone said.
Hagerty-Ross added that the board did consider potential uses for the structure like creating a fifth-grade-only building, using it for additional space for Middlesex Middle School or as a stand-alone preschool.
"However, the stand-alone preschool wasn't going to help solve the issues at the other five schools," Hagerty-Ross said. The walk from the main Middlesex campus to the Edgerton property would also take too long if used as more space at the middle school.
"We've run out of space," Hagerty-Ross said.
New housing projects such as Allen O'Neill and the Kensett properties will have an unknown impact on the enrollment, Hagerty-Ross said.
Hagerty-Ross said the board decided to tackle the enrollment with a "north-south solution" by adding to Tokeneke and Royle.
She added that if enrollment across all the elementary schools were uneven in the coming years following the building projects the board would possibly "look at the dreaded `R' word," referring to redistricting.
"It's a two-part process," Hagerty-Ross said.
Selectman Jerry Nielsen asked if the Board of Education had estimated project costs.
Director of Facilities and Operation Michael Lynch told the board that the cost per square foot of renovated space was between $250 and $275, while the cost of new space per square foot is between $300 and $350.
"To build eight classrooms would be a $3,000,000 expansion which would move the Pre-K (sic) program to Tokeneke," according to the Board of Education proposal submitted to the Board of Selectmen.
The Royle renovations "proposal would cost approximately $1.7 million," according to the same document. The first, and most cost-effective, would be an addition of seven or eight classrooms to the back of Tokeneke, Falcone said at the April 29 Board of Education meeting.
Construction at Tokeneke would be easiest because the original building firm and companies are still available for consultation. In addition, the building is up to current code. The building, which is the newest elementary school in town, opened January 2008, after the International Building Code was adopted. The other elementary schools were built prior to the IBC.
As part of the expansion at Tokeneke, the Early Learning Program, which is spread across schools in the district, would be housed under one roof. The building project would include a two-story addition to the west wing of the school. The four classrooms on the ground floor would house the ELP program while the three or four classrooms on the second floor would be used for more space. According to the educational specifications, the addition would match the building.
Classroom sizes in Tokeneke and Royle are 880 square feet each and can house 26 students.
The project at Royle would be the third since its opening in 1948.
The building recommendation outlined in the educational specifications call for the relocation of the kitchen next to the common room to create a cafeteria and common room space.
The current cafeteria and kitchen space would be converted into support staff offices, small group instruction, an art room and a computer room.
Moving the rooms would open up additional classroom space in the school and would add five classrooms.
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