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New London board considers future of Bennie Dover Jackson School

New London - Members of the Board of Education on Thursday reviewed four architectural proposals for the grade configuration of Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School under the city's proposed all-magnet school district plan.

The district had in 2011 asked Friar Associates of Farmington to evaluate the grade configuration for the middle school, Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said. As New London continues to move toward an all-magnet school district, the biggest question has been how to continue magnet theme pathways from the elementary school level through the middle school and then on to the high school.

Under what Fischer called the most cost-effective, realistic option for the existing middle school building, Bennie Dover would become a school with three academies: dual-language, STEM and arts academies. It would remain a school for sixth- through eighth-graders.

"Option four is the best fit with our existing facilities, with what the cost would be for the renovation and the most constructible, financially feasible approach," Fischer said.

Updating the building could cost as little as $34.3 million or as much as $68.4 million, depending on whether or not the district chooses to renovate the school "as new."

If the school were to be renovated as new, the estimated cost to New London would be $26.5 million after state reimbursement.

Also Thursday, special master Steven Adamowski brought to the table proposals for changes to the high school that would round out the magnet plan.

New London Core High School would consist of the existing Science and Technology Magnet High School and three other school buildings, one downtown and two on the current campus, Adamowski said.

School board members will have to make the decision on what the three other high school magnet academies or pathways would be, he said. Proposals include a sports medicine academy; an arts academy with a partnership with the Garde Arts Center in downtown; a military academy; or a language and commerce academy.

New London already has one established STEM magnet elementary school and another visual and performing arts-themed magnet scheduled to open next year. Jennings Elementary School has a dual-language focus but is not designated as a magnet school.

Board member Jason Catala said he would like to "shake things up" with the middle school grade configurations.

"This is our opportunity to change the way we have our grade settings and configure some new changes in there. I see option four as continuing on as we have with just a new program," he said.

Fisher said that was a "valid point" but reminded Catala that keeping the current grade configuration was the most cost-effective plan for the district.

Other middle school configuration options are "significantly and definitively more expensive," Michael Sorano, senior project manager at Friar Associates, said.

Adamowski said New London has five more years left to go on repaying the bonds from the last renovation at the middle school, and the city is planning to bond for the replacement of the roof, which is "shot."

"The building is not eligible for another large-scale renovation until those bonds are paid," he said. "... I would like to shake things up, but the city cannot bond more than its capacity."

Board members did not vote on the Bennie Dover proposals during Thursday's meeting but plan to discuss it further at their next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 28.


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