West Broad Street School building draws early inquiry

Stonington- Often, when towns close schools, they struggle to find new uses for the buildings, which then sit vacant.

But that may not be the case here if the revived K-12 School Building Committee recommends a long talked-about plan to close the 113-year-old West Broad Street School and expand West Vine Street School to accommodate all Pawcatuck elementary school students.

That's because the Rev. Dennis Perkins, the pastor of St. Michael Church, said Friday that the church is interested in using West Broad Street School to replace its school, which has 158 students in grades kindergarten through 8.

The original section of the St. Michael School was built in 1893, with an addition in 1935. More recently, the convent has been used for classroom space.

While the school building has served the parish well, Perkins said there is a need for more space, something it would have at West Broad.

"We've made the best of it, but it was obviously built for a different time," Perkins said. "We realize West Broad is an old building, but it has far more space."

He said St. Michael School has no assembly space or cafeteria and last year had to do work to remove moisture from the walls.

"We've told the town that if they're moving out of there, we'd be interested in the space, " Perkins said. "But the town has to decide what it wants to do first, and it has to work out for everyone involved."

Perkins said that as far back as 2006, when school officials were discussing renovating the elementary schools, St. Michael said it would be interested in West Broad. That project never went forward, as town officials did not want to add to the town's debt load.

Perkins also pointed out that there's a number of people in the community who would like to see West Broad continue to be used as a school. Having St. Michael move there would accomplish that.

It is unknown whether the church would rent or buy West Broad until discussions are held.

The Board of Selectmen recently reactivated the school building committee in light of the school board's continued push to renovate the town's three elementary schools and last year's discovery of major sprinkler-system problems at West Broad, which cost $90,000 to fix and threatened to delay the opening of school in August.

School officials have said in the past that the elementary schools are undersized, need improved heating and cooling systems, new roofs and windows, more parking and improved handicapped accessibility. Those problems remain and in some cases have worsened.

While the committee has just begun its work, it appears that one popular option would be to expand and renovate West Vine Street School and close West Broad Street, which currently serves third- and fourth-grade students in Pawcatuck. Younger students currently attend West Vine.

The committee will now review educational specifications, enrollment projections and a five-year-old elementary school renovation plan that needs to be updated. It also needs to ask the Board of Finance for $50,000 to develop a plan to present to the town. The cost of the project will not be known until the plans are created.

First Selectman Ed Haberek has said he would like the town to have a plan for any building that it plans to close.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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