Groton voters approve updated plan to build new elementary schools

Groton — Voters at a referendum on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an updated school plan that will allow the town to build two new elementary schools for the same amount as a plan to renovate buildings would have cost.

The vote came down to 1,092 in favor, 239 opposed.

"We're delighted," Superintendent Michael Graner said Tuesday evening after the results came in.

Graner said Groton now has the opportunity to have brand-new elementary schools, whereas in 2016 the town thought it would get renovated schools, which still would have been an improvement. But he said the excitement reached a whole new level last year when school officials realized that the town could build new buildings at the same price as a renovation project — and got approval from the state to proceed.

In 2016, voters endorsed the $184.5 million Groton 2020 plan that called for building a new consolidated middle school on the former Merritt Farm property by Fitch High School and renovating the existing middle schools into "as new" elementary schools, with $100 million in state reimbursement.

The state later changed its guidelines and said it would consider approving the same reimbursement for the construction of new elementary schools, if the town proved new construction was more cost efficient than renovations, Graner said in an interview last month.

The new construction of elementary schools ended up being more cost-efficient, so the state gave the town the go-ahead, he said. The town then needed approval from voters to revise the 2016 proposal to allow for the construction of new elementary schools. There was no change to the plan to build a new consolidated middle school.

Graner said building two new elementary school buildings on the sites of the existing middle schools would be more cost-efficient than converting the existing middle school buildings into elementary schools. The conversion projects would have required significant alterations to prepare the buildings for young students while the new buildings will be longer-lasting. They will also incorporate modern technology and be energy-efficient, he said. 

Adrian Johnson was among the voters who supported the updated plan on Tuesday.

"I have three school-age children and I think that strong schools are going to support the town," Johnson said.

"I'm supporting the new buildings because by looking at the cost to renovate, I believe it's cheaper to go with new buildings and have energy-efficient technology," said another voter, Silvio Querido.

Architects now have the green light to continue work on designing brand-new elementary schools, Graner said. The new elementary schools are expected to be ready for the fall of 2021.

k.drelich@theday.com

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