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    Friday, August 19, 2022

    Norwich school renovation project options being considered

    Norwich — A plan to overhaul the city’s schools — with three existing elementary schools being considered for renovation and expansion, along with a possible fourth, new school — is starting to come into focus.

    The School Building Committee earlier this month narrowed its focus on two possible options for elementary schools, which were presented to residents at a public forum Tuesday. One would renovate and expand the John B. Stanton Elementary, Moriarty Environmental Sciences Magnet and Uncas Elementary schools, each to house about 700 students in preschool through fifth grade. A second option would keep those three schools and build one new elementary school, with all four housing about 550 students each.

    The Veterans Memorial and Thomas W. Mahan elementary schools would be closed. Administrative offices would be moved to the historical Samuel Huntington School, and the Wequonnoc School in Taftville could be retained as a virtual learning center but would need major renovations to meet federal accessibility standards for people with disabilities.

    As the committee was prepared to vote at its April 19 meeting to direct architectural firm Drummey Rosane Anderson Inc., or DRA Architects, to focus on the two possible scenarios, members decided to delay the vote until Tuesday’s public forum to hear residents’ input. The committee also looked at keeping all seven existing elementary school buildings with about 300 students each.

    About 15 people attended Tuesday’s forum and workshop — most of them building committee and City Council members, along with some school staff and parents.

    James Barrett, principal of DRA, said the team toured all schools last summer, assessed their condition, renovation needs and feasibility of keeping those buildings. He said the group is collecting all that information and is beginning to form the plan. Within the next two months, the firm will finalize its recommendations and lay out options for the School Building Committee.

    DRA’s evaluation of population age groups in Norwich showed enrollment is expected to remain stable for the next 10 years. High levels of enrollment in past decades have left the city with more building capacity than students, Barrett said.

    Poster boards lined the Kelly Middle School community room for Tuesday’s forum, one with photos and information for each of the district’s 14 buildings and others with city demographic information, enrollment and responses to surveys of students and teachers.

    In evaluating the buildings, the group studied exterior condition, access, traffic flow and parking, while with interiors, DRA officials evaluated mechanics, classroom size, layout, cafeteria space and technology.

    During the workshop portion of Tuesday’s forum, participants were asked their own assessments of the school building needs.

    Parent Mary Pollard said she is familiar with almost all city school buildings, and “getting kids in and out of the schools” can be a nightmare, especially at Stanton and Wequonnoc schools. Pollard said she loves how the Wequonnoc School is so tied to the Taftville neighborhood, with many walkers and parents and students walking to school events together. But she said it’s dangerous with so many children crossing busy Providence Street.

    Parent Jessica Quay said the building committee should not forget the outdated and rundown playgrounds at all schools that need upgrades.

    Alderman Derell Wilson said districtwide, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is critical in all school buildings, especially those with upper floors.

    The committee hopes to present a proposed plan to overhaul the city’s schools to the City Council for approval and be ready in time to place a referendum question on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election. But committee members said Tuesday the group likely will not be ready in time to meet that goal.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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