East Lyme voters support elementary school renovations

East Lyme — Voters at a referendum Tuesday backed a $37.5 million bonding proposal to upgrade the town’s three elementary schools, bringing to a close years of discussion on how to address the aging buildings.

Townspeople voted 1247-430 to support the proposal that will keep open and renovate all three of the town's elementary schools.

The proposal calls for improvements to the schools’ air quality, handicapped accessibility, security, interior building finishes and electrical, lighting and technology. Plans include the replacement of the roof at Flanders Elementary School; reconfigured drop-off areas at Lillie B. Haynes and the re-establishment of the second gym; and upgrades to the gym and exterior masonry and the replacement of windows at Niantic Center School.

There is an anticipated $5.4 million in state reimbursement for the project, according to Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Newton.

Newton said Tuesday that he was ecstatic with the large number of votes in favor of the plan.

"It means our community is invested in getting our elementary schools back in the shape they should be," he said. "I think it was a great team effort on behalf of the town and Board of Education and all the parties in between to bring a responsible plan forward that is going to meet the needs of our elementary students for the future."

Construction is slated to begin in June 2018 and wrap up in fall 2019.

School officials contemplated different proposals for the town’s elementary schools, before moving forward with the current plan.

A previous proposal called for renovating the Lillie B. Haynes School “as new,” closing the Niantic Center School and providing Flanders Elementary School with some refurbishments until it could be rebuilt in five to seven years. Prior to that, school officials contemplated renovating Niantic Center and building a new school on the Flanders site, while closing Lillie B. Haynes and returning the building to the town.

School officials said the latest plan, which entails alterations to the three existing buildings, would accommodate revised enrollment projections that forecast an uptick in elementary students, and would be fiscally prudent.

The referendum on the current plan originally was scheduled for March 14, but was postponed due to a snowstorm.

Townspeople turning out to vote during the rainy afternoon on Tuesday offered their viewpoints on the proposal.

Dennis Coxe said he had to question the idea of keeping all three schools open and was skeptical of enrollment projections, especially given the overall economy of the state and the state now wanting to transfer costs, such as part of teacher pensions, back to the towns.

"I'm skeptical of the plan," he said. "I think they need to think more about it."

Laura Schultz said she was supporting the plan to update all three schools.

"We just have an amazing town and an amazing community, and I think we all deserve for our buildings to be as great as our students and teachers," she said. "It's definitely time."

k.drelich@theday.com

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