Fitch Middle School's future open to debate

Groton - Board of Education member Robert Peruzzotti said he will ask his colleagues this month to vote on whether to turn Fitch Middle School over to the town.

The school board has retained ownership of the school in case it needs the building during future school construction. But Peruzzotti said he doubts it will.

"We're never going to use it for swing space, I don't think," he said.

He plans to ask the board to place the topic on its agenda this month so it may vote on whether to give the building to the town.

Two town councilors also plan to ask their colleagues about how the building might be used if the school board chooses this route.

"You really have to tread lightly and go slowly I think, because there are going to be so many people with opinions," Councilor Bruce Flax said Sunday.

The board's finance and facilities committee is scheduled to discuss Fitch Middle among its topics when it meets at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the Groton Senior Center.

The board closed the school in June 2012 to consolidate students from three middle schools into two. The town parks and recreation department is using the gym now, and the Fitch High School robotics club and Groton Regional Theater have also asked to use parts of the building.

Flax said the city parks and recreation department may also need space for its programs, or there may be opportunities to share programs and save money. The school is centrally located and has an auditorium and gymnasium which could be useful to the community, he said.

"We need to talk to people and I think it's really important to get the city involved," he said.

Flax said he believes the town council will move slowly, possibly creating a task force to come up with a plan for the building.

The school board has also discussed moving the school administrative offices there.

School Facilities Director Bill Robarge said he has gathered information about the yearly costs of maintaining Fitch Middle School and of moving school administrative offices. He declined to provide the figures, referring calls to interim Superintendent Sean McKenna.

Public Works Director Gary Schneider said other empty schools like the former Noank Elementary cost about $9,000 to $10,000 to maintain at minimum, and the buildings are one-half to one-third the size of Fitch Middle.

About 60 people work in the central office, so Robarge believes extra parking would be needed if they were moved. He said the biggest challenge of moving the offices would be relocating the district's computer server, a generator and a large battery which backs up the generator.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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