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Groton eyes March as start date for construction of new elementary schools

Groton — Planning for the district's two new elementary schools is on track and, if all goes according to plan, construction would begin in March, said Superintendent Michael Graner.

Last week, the Board of Education approved the final plans and cost estimates for the new elementary schools to be built on the site of Cutler Arts and Humanities Magnet Middle School, and the architect at the state Department of Administrative Services reviewed the plans.

The state is slated to review in mid-January the plans for the elementary school to be located at the West Side STEM Magnet Middle School site, which are being finalized now, said Graner.

Once the architect approves the plans, DAS will submit a letter authorizing the town to go out to bid on the schools, he said.

"We hope by the end of January we'll have the bid letter and we'll bid it out," Graner said.

Graner said construction hopefully then will begin in March on the new elementary schools, starting in areas as far away on the site from the existing middle school buildings as possible, with the lion's share of construction to be done starting in the summer when the students are out of school. The projected opening date of the elementary schools is Sept. 2021.

The construction of the two new elementary schools is part of the Groton 2020 plan, which also includes the construction of a new consolidated middle school next to Robert E. Fitch Senior High School. Mary Morrisson Elementary School, S.B. Butler Elementary School and Claude Chester Elementary School are slated to close when the two new elementary schools open in Sept. 2021.

The construction of Groton Middle School is on budget and projected to be completed in June 2020, Graner said.

"This is something we've been planning for a long time, and it's really right on the timeline," he said.

The new elementary schools are estimated to cost $45 million each, Graner said. The state approved 80 percent state reimbursement for the school at the Cutler site after Groton requested diversity school status to help address racial imbalance, Graner said. The school at the West Side site is slated for 47 percent state reimbursement.

The two-story elementary buildings will be approximately 70,000 square feet, with the capacity to each accommodate 604 students, he said. They will be built to accommodate a nurse's office and a school-based health center and will have playing fields, playscapes, early childhood and regular elementary classrooms, and a separate traffic route for buses and parent drop-off.

Themes for intra-district magnet schools

The two new elementary schools will be intra-district magnet schools with defined neighborhood areas, as well as slots, available by a lottery, for children who live in other parts of town, he said.

Charles Barnum Elementary School also is slated to become an intra-district magnet school starting in the 2021-22 school year, which means that all five elementary schools will be intra-district magnet schools starting that school year.

Graner also pointed out that while 15 years ago the district had 14 schools, there will be 7 schools in 2021-22: five elementary schools, Groton Middle School, and the high school.

Graner described it as akin to "a reinvention of the district."

The Board of Education has established a committee and has been looking at various options for themes for the two new elementary schools as well as Charles Barnum.

"We are extremely interested in making sure that we identify themes that parents and kids would very much want to be a part of," Graner said.

Examples of potential themes include International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, classical studies, play and ingenuity, STEAM, arts, and STEM and leadership, he said.

"This month we are going to send out a survey to get teachers input, and then after the New Year, once we get results from the teachers back, we are going to do a survey for the parents," Graner said.

The plan is to then conduct a series of focus groups with parents to determine which themes would be the most attractive, he said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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