Published January 07. 2014 4:00AM
Ledyard - The Ledyard Town Center Committee weighed in Monday evening on the fate of Led yard Center School, which could now be demolished to make room for a new middle school.
At more than 60 years old, the elementary school is the district's oldest, and has long been plagued with costly maintenance issues. As a way to save money and consolidate the district's elementary schools amid declining enrollment, its closure was part of the original plan to renovate Ledyard Middle School. But that $45 million plan was scrapped last spring, putting all options back on the table.
Even leading up to the day the Town Council voted to pull the proposal from ballot, several councilors expressed concern over the closure's potential economic consequences. As a major traffic draw, the school has long served as a way to bring patrons to the handful of local businesses located in the town center.
Now, as the Municipal Building Committee considers the cost of closing Gallup Hill School versus closing Ledyard Center School as part of a new middle school renovation plan, town and school officials are taking a second look at a short-lived idea from last year: Razing Ledyard Center School and building an entirely new middle school in its place.
This proposal was originally dismissed because of suggestions that the Ledyard Center property couldn't accommodate the space needs of a middle school.
But Councilor Bill Saums reintroduced the plan in remarks made last month at a Town Council meeting, saying that a large parcel of available land north of the baseball field behind the elementary school could easily be used as space for athletic fields, parking and even a town green.
Saums said the options under consideration now are "unnecessarily constrained" by the focus on correcting the middle school's structural problems, which added to the cost of upgrading the existing facility. He also suggested that the high cost of the original plan - which contributed to councilors' scrapping it - had to do with the need to work around a school in active use.
'More benefits to community'
Building a new middle school would eliminate the scheduling concern, Saums said, while delivering "more benefits to the community" at perhaps a lower cost.
In this plan, Gallup Hill School would still be renovated and expanded to accommodate the influx of Ledyard Center students.
While no board or committee has made a commitment yet to one particular option, the consensus among Town Center Committee members Monday night seemed to be supportive of Saums' plan and the benefits he projected, which include the use of the old middle school as a community center with no construction necessary.
Committee member Ed Lynch pointed out that the aging Ledyard Center School will need extensive work even if it stays open. It would be a matter of investing in fixing it or starting from scratch on a new middle school building, he said.
Committee member and new Town Councilor Lou Gabordi added that a middle school may actually bring in more business than the elementary school does, with more after-school activities and sports.
"We've always felt that losing the school in Ledyard Center would be a bad thing," said Jeffrey Beacham, chairman of the Ledyard Town Center Committee, adding that while a new police station planned for the center of town could draw in some activity, it would not be nearly as much of a traffic and economic boon as a school.
"It's intriguing and it's going to be looked at thoroughly," he said.