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Norwich committee gets close-up look at four city schools

Norwich – Members of the School Facilities Review Committee went backstage and opened closets at four city schools Monday, were greeted by kindergartners with the Uncas School wolf howl and even posed for photos with the Connecticut Tigers’ baseball team mascot visiting students at lunch at the Thomas Mahan School.

The tour was the first of three visits to school facilities by the committee assigned to plan a possible consolidation and renovation. On Monday, committee members toured the Veterans’ Memorial, Uncas, Mahan and John B. Stanton schools, examining use of space, challenges and expansion possibilities.

Behind the stage curtains in multipurpose rooms at Veterans’ and Mahan schools, — sister schools of similar design built in 1968 — the stages and rear prep areas were crammed with boxes containing everything from paper towels and classroom supplies to musical instruments and a few tables and chairs.

At Veterans’, Principal Adam Rosenberg said the stage space also is used for occupational therapy and physical therapy sessions for students with special needs. At Mahan, there isn’t even space for that on the stage, where risers for singers and a piano remain in place.

“This is all for storage,” Mahan Principal Donna Funk said, opening the rear curtain, “because we have no place to store things. Just the very front of the stage we use (as a stage).”

Veterans’ and Mahan schools have one multipurpose room used as a cafeteria, assembly room and gymnasium, with lunch tables folded up and stacked along one wall when not in use.

Committee member Paula Rosenberg Bell, a retired teacher, asked principals at all the schools on Monday’s visit about classroom layouts, emergency exits and handicapped facilities for students. Answers varied by building, with some having student handicapped-access bathrooms only at the nurses’ station.

In the hallway outside classrooms in the kindergarten-through-second grade wing at Veterans’, two students sat at a single desk with an instructor crouched in a child’s chair giving individualized instruction. Nearby was a padded enclave used for individual physical activity for special needs students.

Veterans’ has 90 English language learners, who have specialized instruction Monday through Wednesday in a room that becomes speech and language therapy on Thursdays and Fridays. The librarian’s office was converted into a school psychologist office, Rosenberg said, and behind one bookcase near the windows, a small special education class was underway.

Uncas School was built in 1975 as an “open classroom” building along with the John Moriarty School. Uncas used a state-funded capital improvements bond to build classroom walls and to close off a second-floor open balcony with just a railing. The classroom divider walls don’t reach the ceiling, and Principal Peter Camp said the sound does carry if a loud lesson is taking place.

Camp brought the group into one of the school's few original closed classrooms, a small room with 19 kindergartners. They held their hands in the Uncas wolf paw salute and gave the group an Uncas School howl.

Uncas also has the only combined class in the district, with third- and fourth-graders taught together by one teacher. The move was part of budget cuts. With 35 to 40 students per grade, Uncas has one third-grade class, one fourth-grade class and one combined class, each with about 25 students.

“Other school districts would have two third grades and two fourth grades with 18 kids each,” Camp said.

The tours will continue on May 23 with plans to visit the Teachers’ Memorial School – now with sixth grade only, but set to become a magnet middle school in fall – the Samuel Huntington School, Case Street Early Learning Center and the central office building, the former 19th-century John Mason School.

On June 6, the committee will tour Wequonnoc School, Bishop Early Learning Center and Adult Education buildings.


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