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In May 2011 Groton voters defeated a $133 million building plan to modernize the public school infrastructure with a combination of school closings, renovation and new construction. It was a 3-to-1 margin of defeat, voters finding it too costly even with the state kicking in half the cost.
The problems it sought to solve did not go away and two years later a new plan is taking shape. While it is too soon to speculate on price, town officials have to be mindful of costs given the reaction of voters last time.
This week the task force working on the plan for future school construction met with the Board of Education. A majority of school board members voiced support for a proposal that would share some significant things in common with the last plan. The project defeated by voters in 2011 would have reduced the number of schools in town from 11 to 9, while the current tentative plan would cut the number of schools from 10 to 8. After the May 2011 referendum defeat, the school board voted to close Fitch Middle School and consolidated middle school services into two schools.
Now a majority of school board members are discussing the construction of a new middle school. This would allow for renovation of the existing middle schools for use as elementary schools. Groton needs the elementary space because several of the existing schools are old, outdated and arguably not worthy of more investment. The town may close as many as three - Claude Chester, S.B. Butler and Pleasant Valley.
Absent from the discussion was the proposal for early education centers that were part of the plan in 2011.
Certainly nothing is finalized. The School Facilities Initiative Task Force expects to come up with multiple options and seek public input before settling on a recommendation. Trying to build consensus behind whatever plan is ultimately presented to voters will be a major challenge.
Residents can get a firsthand update as to where things stand when the task force meets Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall Annex. Theirs is important work.