Graner: Middle school project endorsed by Town Council

The proposed renovation of Ledyard Middle School took a big step forward on March 13 when the Town Council unanimously approved the proposal and forwarded it to the Permanent Building Committee. The action by the Town Council now makes it possible for the renovation project to be included on the May 21 town referendum.

At the meeting on March 13, the project plans and cost estimates were presented. The renovation is being recommended for several reasons, with concerns about the middle school's security leading the list. With the current building, it is not possible to lock individual classrooms during an emergency. The primary benefit of the proposed renovation would be to construct traditional classrooms with lockable doors. In the case of an emergency, each classroom would be secured.

The expense of maintaining Ledyard Center School provides another factor in considering the renovation. The building was constructed in 1949 and not designed to handle modern technology. As a result, the school's electrical system regularly requires costly repairs. In addition, the school roof and plumbing system will need to be replaced in the next several years at a cost well over $1 million. Closing Ledyard Center School as part of a district reorganization associated with the Ledyard Middle School project will save the town more than $500,000 annually.

The renovation is also being recommended because the schools are implementing the new, more rigorous, Common Core States Standards curriculum. As a result, we hope to add a wing to the building and have sixth graders attend middle school. We know that the sixth-grade curriculum is far more rigorous than in prior years; the math and science courses contain the most significant increases in rigor. Having certified math and science teachers would be best for the sixth graders and would help prepare the students for the new national assessments that will be administered in the spring of 2015.

The decades-long problem of noise in most instructional areas in the school is yet another reason for the renovation. Since most classes are taught in open-cluster areas, the noise from other classes often disrupts students. Besides the improved security that building interior walls would create, the traditional classrooms would also provide quiet, well-ordered classrooms.

The final aspect of the renovation plan is the construction of a kitchen for the food services program. The kitchen facility would serve two important functions: it would allow food service staff to prepare hot lunches for children at Ledyard Middle, Juliet Long and Gales Ferry schools, and the kitchen would enable the town to use the school as an emergency shelter during a major storm.

After months of design work, the architect reported that the project would cost approximately $45 million. The state will pay $28 million (62 percent) of the cost. The town share of the project would be $17 million, but that amount would be offset by the savings of $500,000 per year. After consulting the town financial advisors, we have determined the cost of the 20-year bond for the average homeowner would be less than $100 per year.

Several public forums will be held to present the details of the plan and its funding over the next couple of months. On May 21, the voters will determine if the project provides enough value to the town to justify the investment of funds.

MICHAEL GRANER IS THE SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS IN LEDYARD.

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