Stonington eyes funds for schools to fix damaged West Broad ceiling, improve security, pay for teacher evaluations

Stonington - The Board of Education is preparing to ask the Board of Finance to approve funding to repair the sagging fourth-floor ceiling at West Broad Street School, fund a state-mandated teacher evaluation program and make $1.7 million in school security and building improvements.

Funding is needed to reopen four closed classrooms and the gym at West Broad Street School before the start of school while the latter two items were cut from the budget this spring with the finance board telling school officials to return for funding once they put together a plan.

The school board plans to make its request at the August meeting of the finance board.

None of the money is in the current budget and would likely have to be part of a bonding package in the case of the school improvements or from the town's $11 million undesignated fund balance in the case of the ceiling repairs. The additional money would have to be approved at a town meeting.

The four classrooms and gym/auditorium on the top floor at West Broad Street School have been closed since May because of safety concerns about the integrity of the ceiling after water-soaked portions began to sag. Asbestos may also have to be removed.

The school board agreed to proceed with the work using school money but decided to ask the finance board for up to $120,000 in additional funds to pay for the work. While it is estimated the work could cost about $80,000, school officials are not sure if the price will increase once a contractor begins work at the 114-year-old school. A portion of a ceiling also collapsed in a school stairwell this spring.

Urgency to work

The board said it needs to proceed on its own to get the work done in time for the start of school and can't wait for finance board and town meeting approval. School board members hope the finance board will appropriate emergency funds as it did in 2012 to fix a faulty sprinkler system at the school and a leaky roof at Deans Mill School. The Deans Mill work, which will cost $792,000, will soon begin.

The school board will also ask the finance board for $125,000 in additional funds to meet to meet new state requirements for teacher evaluations. The money would pay for a full-time middle school assistant principal and a part-time elementary school administrator. Eliminating the money from the 2014-15 budget allowed the school board to help decrease the proposed budget increase which was cut by the finance board.

The school board will also ask for $1.7 million to pay for school improvements, more than two-thirds of which would pay for safety improvements in light of the Sandy Hook School mass shooting. When the items were cut from the current school budget, the finance board told school official to return with a package of improvements that could be funded through long-term borrowing.

While one of the plans the K-12 School Building Committee is expected to consider calls for closing all three elementary schools and sending students to the two middle schools, that plan would likely not be a reality for at least five years. The other option also calls for closing West Broad Street School.

A comprehensive study this year of the town's six schools found it would take $11.5 million to repair and replace the systems because of years of deferred maintenance. In many cases, the systems should have been replaced decades ago.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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