Norwich school renovation plan finalized, goes to City Council

Norwich — A school committee will present a plan to the City Council that calls for renovating three elementary schools and one middle school, building a new elementary school, closing and selling five school buildings and reusing two others for offices, adult education and special education programs.

The School Facilities Review Committee voted unanimously Monday to approve its final report to the City Council after a detailed review and debate over final wording. The committee anticipates a need for expanded school space based on actual and proposed major residential projects and projected development in the city.

The committee will present the plan to the City Council, which created the committee after rejecting a previous $147 million school renovation plan.

The City Council would have the authority to create a formal school building committee, work with an architect to come up with cost estimates and seek state approval for partial reimbursement of the work. The goal is to have the building committee present a final school renovation plan to voters for a referendum in November 2020.

The committee proposed renovating as new the John B. Stanton, John Moriarty and Uncas elementary schools and building a fourth new elementary school, all to house preschool through fifth-grade students. The proposed new school building would accommodate 300 to 600 students.

The committee did not identify a site for a new school, but Chairman Mark Bettencourt said the committee’s preference would be to build the school in an “underserved” area of the city, such as Greeneville, Laurel Hill or the East Side.

The Teachers’ Memorial Middle School would be renovated as new for grades six through eight, while the recently renovated Kelly Middle School would remain a school for grades six through eight.

Under the plan, two current preschool centers, the Bishop School and Deborah Tenant-Zinewicz School would be closed and listed for sale. Bishop also houses several school offices and technical departments. Under the plan, these would move to the Samuel Huntington School, which would close as an elementary school and would house consolidated administrative offices and the Norwich Transition Academy, a vocational program for special education students aged 18 to 21.

The Thomas Mahan elementary school would close and be listed for sale. The building, located off Route 82 in the city’s prime commercial district, is considered valuable for commercial development.

The central office building, the historic 1895 former John Mason School at the Norwichtown Green, also would be closed and listed for sale. The Hickory Street School, which houses the Norwich Transition Academy, also would be listed for sale.

Wequonnoc School in Taftville would close as an elementary school, with the arts and technology magnet school program moving to the to-be-renovated Moriarty environmental magnet school building. Some capital improvements would be done to Wequonnoc to house Adult Education and the virtual learning program for expelled students.

The status of the Veterans’ elementary school remains in question in the proposal.

“Status will be contingent upon the final capacity (student population) of the proposed four elementary schools (Moriarty, Stanton, Uncas and the new school),” the report stated.

Following the vote to accept the report, committee Chairman Mark Bettencourt thanked the committee and said: “we tried to come up with the best proposal we could.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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