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Preston considers creating new school, town building committee

Preston — Town and school officials are considering reviving a defunct permanent building committee to assess all town and school buildings and properties for needed capital improvement projects, expansions and possible new facilities.

The previous committee started as a school building committee, expanded into a buildings and facilities committee to include town projects and was made permanent in 2006, First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier said. The committee apparently stopped meeting in 2016, and members dropped off but the committee was never disbanded.

It consisted of members of the boards of education, selectmen and finance with four members from the public.

The idea to revive the building committee started with the Board of Education, which reviewed its five-year capital improvements plan at its Dec. 12 meeting. School officials face the need to assess both the Preston Veterans Memorial School and Preston Plains Middle School buildings for space needs, building and safety code upgrades and security.

As they considered those assessments, school board members realized the town’s potential needs for new or expanded Town Hall, library and other facilities could come into play.

“If that is the case, the Board would welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with Town leaders to create a comprehensive long-term plan that is well articulated, understood, and supported by the Preston community,” Superintendent Roy Seitsinger wrote in a letter to the Board of Selectmen. “If not, the Board would welcome the opportunity to work with Town leaders to develop a long-term comprehensive plan for Preston’s school district which would be jointly presented to the Preston community.”

Board of Education Chairman Sean Nugent told selectmen this past week that the projected five-year school capital improvements plan totals more than $5 million. The middle school is 60 years old, and the school district is having trouble getting parts to fix some old equipment. The “new” PVMS is now almost 20 years old and needs building code upgrades too, including a water sprinkler system that was not required at the time the school was planned, Nugent said.

School enrollment is expected to increase steadily and, within about two years, the school board is looking at “kicking out” the school central office from the middle school for space reasons, he said. He added that in some towns, school central office staff members are housed in town halls or other town facilities.

“Our thought was if the town is looking into it, and the school board is looking into it,” Nugent said of building improvement assessments, “we should do it together.”

Allyn-Gauthier said she will present the idea to the Board of Finance at its next meeting, which is on Feb. 16 at the middle school.

If all parties agree, then the boards will need to decide on a makeup of the committee, whether it be the same as before, with a member of each of the three boards and four members from the public, or other arrangement.

Selectmen Kenneth Zachem and Jerry Grabarek both said they served on past building committees. They said the town needs to find younger residents to serve on a proposed new permanent building and facilities committee. Zachem suggested representatives from the boards of selectmen, education and finance could be ex-officio members.


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