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North Stonington's schools are desperately in need of renovation, few dispute that. Much of the infrastructure dates back more than a half-century. Lacking appropriate space and adequate facilities for computers, science laboratories, music programs and physical education, they are ill equipped to meet modern educational needs.
A few years ago, the town debated whether to close its small high school and give students the choice of attending other schools in the region. This newspaper thought the regional approach made sense. The clear consensus of the townspeople, however, was to maintain their own high school.
That commitment comes with a cost that residents can no longer ignore. In 2008, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, citing the outdated, substandard conditions at the school, placed Wheeler High School on its warning list, placing it at risk of losing accreditation if improvements are not made.
Residents should vote Monday to authorize the $47 million project that will renovate and expand both the elementary school and Wheeler Middle School/High School "as new."
It's expensive. After state reimbursements, the cost to the town will be about $31 million. Repaying the bonds will add about 5 mills to the tax rate. However, there is no better alternative. Interest rates are at record lows. Doing the renovation work in piecemeal phases, as some have suggested, would be more disruptive to education and over the long haul cost far more.
Ignoring the problem is not a valid choice. The town has ignored the need for renovations far too long already.
If voters approve, Wheeler would get new science labs, a modern cafeteria and kitchen, a secure main entrance and space for the music program. Plans for North Stonington Elementary School include 11,700 square feet of added space and updating the entire building to meet building codes and contemporary educational standards. Also planned is a new gymnasium/auditorium.
While critics can pick apart the details of any major project, overall the Ad Hoc School Building Committee has done a good job putting this plan together. It received majority support from the Board of Selectmen and the unanimous backing of the Board of Finance.
Voters should give their approval Monday.