Stonington superintendent warns West Broad Street School renovations would be costly

Stonington - Superintendent of Schools Van Riley said Wednesday night that it makes more sense for the town to expand and renovate West Vine Street School to accommodate all Pawcatuck elementary school students rather than renovate both West Vine and the 113-year-old West Broad Street School.

West Broad currently serves third- and fourth-grade students, while younger students attend West Vine.

Riley, who made his comments during the initial meeting of the reconstituted K-12 School Building Committee, said renovating West Broad would be very expensive.

The committee will now review educational specifications, enrollment projections and a five-year-old elementary school renovation plan before asking the Board of Finance for an additional appropriation of about $50,000 to hire a consultant to develop a plan to present to the town.

Problems with the elementary schools were identified more than a dozen years ago. The schools are undersized, need improved heating and cooling systems, new roofs and windows, more parking and improved handicapped accessibility.

After the school building committee completed the $39 million renovation and expansion of the high school in 2005, it turned its attention to the elementary schools. But that project stalled as town officials repeatedly said they did not want to add to the town's debt load and possibly increase taxes during a difficult economy.

The Board of Selectmen recently reactivated the committee in light of the school board's continued push for the project and last year's discovery of major sprinkler-system problems at West Broad, which cost $90,000 to fix.

First Selectman Ed Haberek told the committee that there is a definite need for the project.

He said he was not sure how big of a project voters would approve but said he would have Director of Finance Maryanna Stevens talk to the commission about how various proposals would affect the town's debt.

While much of the initial discussion was about West Vine and West Broad, resident Bill Sternberg cautioned the committee that Deans Mill School also has needs that must be addressed.

The committee may also consider what to do with West Broad if it is closed, as well as what to do with the current school administration building in Old Mystic. Haberek also cautioned the committee that there is a vocal group of residents who do not want West Broad closed.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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