Groton school consolidation options heard by task force

Groton - A majority of school board members support building one new middle school rather than two and adding prekindergarten to the district's elementary schools.

The board's committee of the whole gave this message Monday to members of a task force working on a plan for future school construction. Board members also indicated they believe they will have to close three older elementary schools - Claude Chester Elementary, S.B. Butler Elementary and Pleasant Valley Elementary - and move those students into the existing middle schools, Cutler Middle School and West Side Middle School.

In June 2010, a report by McKissick Associates Architects evaluated the condition of Groton's schools and ranked Claude Chester 11th out of 11 schools, ranked Butler 10th and ranked Pleasant Valley ninth. All three schools received "poor" ratings in the areas of educational support, building code compliance, fire protection, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and food service. Claude Chester also received a "poor" rating in the area of heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

School board member Robert Peruzzotti said if Groton built one middle school and placed it near the high school, it would not need temporary space to house students during construction as it could empty West Side and Cutler middle schools and quickly transform them into elementary schools.

School Facilities Director Bill Robarge said Groton would save 25 percent by building one middle school rather than two. He also said the future middle school could have separate wings for different grades.

One question that remains is what grades the middle school would include. At least two board members raised the possibility that middle school include grades 5 through 8, though most favored a 6-8 school.

Mike Zuba, an educational consultant with the firm Milone & MacBroom, said having grades 5 through 8 in a school would require the district to accommodate 1,400 students, or have two schools on the same campus with 700 each. Having a grade 6 to 8 school would result in a building with about 970 students.

Former School Facilities Director Wes Greenleaf said the cost of running schools is based largely on the number of buildings, so if Groton built one middle school, closed three elementary schools and used the existing middle schools for elementary students, it would be down to eight instead of 11.

He said money will sway voters when it comes to future building plans.

"I think cost is going to be a huge driver," he said.

The School Facilities Initiative Task Force, which is working on specifics of the plan, meets at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in the Town Hall Annex.

Zuba said the task force plans to come up with three or four options, then conduct a scientifically valid phone survey this fall that asks 400 people about the proposals to gauge community support.

"The survey is designed in a manner that we can pick out each part of what we're proposing to find out if the community is going to buy into that," Zuba said. Ultimately the plan would be decided by voters at a referendum.


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