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Groton eyes Grasso for future school construction needs

By Deborah Straszheim

Publication: The Day

Published August 30. 2013 4:00AM   Updated August 31. 2013 12:07AM
Town plans to ask state about possibility of sharing technical school's facilities, access

Groton - The town plans to approach the state in the next few weeks to ask about using a portion of the grounds or building at Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School for its future school needs.

But Grasso Tech may have less excess space than Groton realizes.

No one from Groton had reached out to the Department of Education or to the Technical High School System board so far, Connecticut Department of Education spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said.

Groton is interested in Grasso Tech because it's trying to create a future school construction plan.

The town owns a 75-acre tract known as the "Merritt property" along Fort Hill Road, but the land would be difficult to develop because it includes wetlands, slopes downhill and doesn't offer easy access, town officials said. But Groton owns already the property, and it's in the center of town, so it could be useful for future school construction. The town also could access the Merritt property through Robert E. Fitch High School property.

Town Manager Mark Oefinger said he would contact the state on the town's behalf in the coming weeks to explore issues such as whether Groton could use or share property that belongs to Grasso Tech, such as the driveway, fields or part of the school.

"Are there some items in that building (or) parts of that building that potentially could be used?" he said. "So if we did do something at the Merritt property, could we share parking, could we share an access drive, could we somehow get access to the fields?"

Discussion also could include questions about the future direction of technical education to determine whether the state has any plans to consolidate any of the technical schools. Oefinger said the town would regret it, for example, if it didn't ask about the availability of Grasso Tech, then later learn that the state had plans to close a technical school in the area.

Donnelly, of the state education department, said Thursday that Grasso Tech has 553 students enrolled, 72 percent of its capacity of 768. The school has been about three-quarters full or better for the last three years, she said.

Norwich Tech had 682 students enrolled as of Thursday and was "at capacity," according to the school.

Mike Zuba, an educational consultant with the firm Milone & MacBroom, which is advising the School Facilities Initiative Task Force in planning future construction, said any discussions would occur at a "high level" at the state. He said the idea is to explore whether use of any of the Grasso property is an option.

"I think it's to first understand what the state's future intention is with the building, and would they be interested in any ideas for that building if we had them," Zuba said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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