Groton will reconsider whether to renovate old schools or build new

A concept drawing of an aerial view of the proposed Groton Middle School, as it would be seen from Ella Grasso Tech Drive. Groton Project Manager Rick Norris and Arcadis Design and Consultancy showed the design concept for Groton’s future middle school to the Town Council earlier this week.  (Courtesy of town Project Manager Rick Norris)
A concept drawing of an aerial view of the proposed Groton Middle School, as it would be seen from Ella Grasso Tech Drive. Groton Project Manager Rick Norris and Arcadis Design and Consultancy showed the design concept for Groton’s future middle school to the Town Council earlier this week. (Courtesy of town Project Manager Rick Norris)

Groton — Groton is revisiting the question of whether to renovate its two existing middle schools into elementary schools or level the old buildings and build new schools, said Rick Norris, project manager for the town.

The state authorized three school construction projects for Groton during the 2017 legislative session, including converting the two middle schools into elementary schools. The town also is building a new middle school.

The approvals would not change. But Groton must now demonstrate to the State Office of School Construction Grants & Review that renovating existing middle schools and converting them into elementary schools is the most cost-effective plan, Norris said.

“Not only does the state require it, but it potentially could be a less expensive option to build a new school," he said.

Norris briefed the Town Council on the projects earlier this week.

Groton would receive three different reimbursement rates for the three buildings. The state is expected to provide 47.5 percent reimbursement to Groton for the new middle school, an $86 million project. After reimbursement, the town’s portion is estimated at about $45.2 million, according to the latest financing projections.

The state would provide 80 percent reimbursement to turn Carl C. Cutler Middle School into an elementary school, because the school is intended to correct a racial imbalance in the district. After reimbursement, that building would cost about $45.9 million, with the town paying about $9.2 million.

The state would provide 57.5 reimbursement for the third project, renovating West Side Middle School and converting it into an elementary school. The project would cost an estimated $48.5 million, with Groton covering $20.6 million.

An architect is working on the schematic design of the middle school and construction is expected to begin later this year, Norris said. The new school could open in the fall of 2020. Work would start on the two elementary buildings after students leave the existing middle schools.

However, if the town opts to build new elementary schools rather than fix up old buildings, construction on the future elementary schools could begin sooner. The town wouldn't have to wait to open its new middle school in order to empty the existing middle schools for renovations.

Instead, contractors could start work on the existing middle school sites before the old buildings are gone and when they remain occupied.

Construction costs escalate with time, so building sooner rather than later could reduce state and town costs, Norris said.

The town is interviewing architects to build the two elementary schools and hopes to hire them by April, he said. He expects to know in late May or early June whether renovating or building new is the less expensive option.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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