School board looks at future building needs

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Thu., Nov. 15, 2012
Superintendent Stephen Cullinan explains the needs vs. cost of the two-story addition to Crystal Lake School. Photos by Steve Smith.
Superintendent Stephen Cullinan explains the needs vs. cost of the two-story addition to Crystal Lake School. Photos by Steve Smith.

While accepting recognition for being named to the AP Honor Roll – which recognized districts that increase the percentage of high school students who take AP courses while simultaneously maintaining or increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher on AP Exams – the Ellington Board of Education turned its focus to examining its future infrastructure needs at its meeting on Nov. 14.

Director of Educational Services Dr. Erin McGurk said Ellington was one of  26 high schools recognized in Connecticut and one of 539 across the country, and that earning the recognition was due to the work that the district had done to increase the breadth of Ellington's AP offerings and to remove some of the barriers that have kept students from scoring high.

Board Chairman Dan Keune said the honor is not a small one. “It's quite an accomplishment,” he said. “To go from where we were to where we are, it's just impressive for everyone involved.”

Howard Freedman – chair of the board's Operations Committee – said the committee's main topic of discussion at its last meeting was the district's five-year plan.

Priorities began with adding Wi-Fi throughout the school system, and adding a generator at Windermere Intermediate School – the only district school without a generator – and adding energy-saving heating controls at Ellington Middle School.

Board member Dale Roberson said he was curious about the committee's ranking. “It seems like heating controls and maybe a generator would have more of a priority over the wireless,” Roberson said. “Not to say that they aren't all important.”

Freedman said that the discussion was looking at an education perspective.

Superintendent Stephen Cullinan said while the generator could be used to keep school open during a storm and/or power outage, and that in the past, food from the school's refrigerators have had to be moved, he still thought the wireless connectivity is a higher priority. “From my perspective, the wireless is an instructional, curricular assessment issue which has the potential to affect all students in all schools, every single day. I think from the learning process, and where we're going, I do believe that is the most important on the list.”

The same company that would install the wireless system has installed them at several other schools in the state, Cullinan said.

An update was also given by Cullinan on the building project at Crystal Lake School. He said the architectural firm working on the project priced a two-story addition at $451,000 more than a one-story addition. He was careful to point out that the difference would not put the project over its construction budget of $3.7 million, but will make a difference as to how the project proceeds.

Cullinan said the building committee discussed the option of paying the firm to develop both schemes, or choose one scheme and then ask for the second one if the first is over-budget. The problem is, Cullinan said, that would cost time.

“We're planning for an opening in the fall of 2015, and the architect has said that every month you delay past that is costing you $83,000 per month,” he said. Cullinan added that in his opinion, the two-story option leaves more flexibility for the future, but the one-story option would not compromise education.

Keune said he felt that the permanent building committee may have been cautious on the numbers, but were prudent in their questions of the architect.

The school district is also in need of someone to oversee the facilities, and the board stepped closer to creating that position.The board approved a job description for a Director of Facilities. Cullinan said Ellington previously had such a position, but it was eliminated a number of years ago.

“It is the responsibility of this district that we need to appropriately maintain all of our facilities in an ongoing and comprehensive manner,” Cullinan said. “In order to do that, you need people with certain expertise. When I tell people from other districts that we do not have that position, they look at me like I have a hole in my head or something.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the director of facilities job description, and Cullinan said he would like to fill the position early in 2013 and that there is room in the current budget.

The board also approved the five-year plan with a unanimous vote.

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