South Windsor's 10-year elementary schools plan going to voters

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
South Windsor - posted Wed., Jan. 29, 2014
The Board of Education has expressed its unanimous support of the South Windsor Elementary Schools Master Plan. Photo by Annie Gentile.
The Board of Education has expressed its unanimous support of the South Windsor Elementary Schools Master Plan. Photo by Annie Gentile.

In January the South Windsor Board of Education mailed town residents a Special Report outlining a proposed 10-year Master Plan for the town’s five aging elementary schools. Adopted by the BOE in October, the plan takes a different approach to upgrading and/or replacing schools, after the public did not approve other plans for the schools in previous referenda.

The new plan proposes a three-phase approach that addresses one school in the first phase, two in the second, and one more in the third. Phase I calls for building a new elementary school on the Orchard Hill Elementary campus, and then for the closure of the existing Wapping School, returning it to the town for community use. The existing Orchard Hill building would be used as “swing space” for students impacted in Phases II and III of the 10-year plan. Phase II would involve building a new school at Eli Terry and renovating Philip R. Smith School as new. Phase III would involve the renovation as new of the Pleasant Valley School. Once the Pleasant Valley School is renovated and opened, the original Orchard Hill School would also be returned to the town.

The Board of Education is asking the Town Council to set a March 25, 2014, referendum on Phase I.

Supporters say the three-phase approach offers several advantages. “Like many Connecticut towns, South Windsor is experiencing a decline in projected enrollments,” said Board of Education Chairman David Joy. He said the board worked with Dr. Peter Prowda, a retired statistician from the State Department of Education, to get as accurate projections as possible. This, Joy said, is critical because the partial reimbursement rate from the state for such construction and renovation projects are tied to projected enrollments. “We did not want to build a school bigger than what we can get reimbursed for, and by doing a school plan over three phases, we can see if enrollment projections change and adjust the size of the schools in Phases II and III if need be. It’s also a more palatable approach for taxpayers,” said Joy.

Joy said that in putting together the plan, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kate Carter reached out to experts to get extensive input on what issues they need to be concerned about. Acting as an advisor, Farmington-based Friar Architects visited the various schools to get a complete picture of the current conditions of the schools, to evaluate code and regulation compliance requirements, and to make recommendations. “The Board of Education unanimously and enthusiastically supports this plan,” he said.

“The three-phased approach also gives us the benefit of learning from each process,” said Carter. “We believe that in building the first school, we will gain knowledge and insight into the process, which will help us to make wise and sound fiscal decisions along the way,” she said. “We are hoping the momentum in Phase I will carry through Phases II and III. The board is definitely committed to see the entire plan all the way through.”

Carter also noted that the South Windsor Senior Advisory Council, a representative organization of residents and participants of adult and human services programs, recently and unanimously endorsed the schools plan. “I am pleased that South Windsor residents of all ages are demonstrating their commitment to invest in our children as well as our community’s infrastructure,” she said.

“I am very supportive of this plan,” said Town Manager Matthew Galligan. “Kudos to the superintendent and staff for coming up with a very viable plan that will lessen the impact to taxpayers,” he said. Besides providing a needed upgrade to the local elementary schools, which range in age from 48 to 60 years old, Galligan said the plan will also provide opportunities for the town with the closing of the Wapping School. Once turned over, he said the town can utilize the building for other purposes and not need to expend an expected $3 million or $9 million for a brand new senior center expansion or new recreation center, respectively. “[The BOE] plan provides something for everyone,” he said. Additionally, Galligan said he expects a new school will provide operational efficiencies in heating and lighting costs that the town is not currently enjoying today.

As the proposed referendum date approaches, mailings will be sent to residents outlining the construction cost estimates, tax impacts, state reimbursements and other information. For more information, visit the Board of Education website at www.southwindsorschools.org/elementaryfacilities.


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