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    Sunday, September 24, 2023

    Norwich School Building Committee opts for four new elementary schools

    Norwich — The School Building Committee on Tuesday night endorsed a plan to build four new elementary schools to replace seven schools, three on the grounds of existing schools and one on city-owned land at the former Greeneville School site.

    The committee voted 7-3 during a virtual meeting to ask the architectural firm Drummey Rosane Anderson Inc., or DRA, which has offices in Massachusetts and Connecticut, to provide a detailed report with projected costs to build new schools on the grounds of the Moriarty Environmental Sciences Magnet School, John B. Stanton School and Uncas School and on the former Greeneville School site. Each 75,000-square-foot school would house about 525 students in preschool through fifth grade.

    Once the new schools are completed, the existing buildings would be torn down, and new playgrounds and athletic fields created in the spaces where buildings used to be.

    Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Middle School would be renovated and retained, along with the recently renovated Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School. The Samuel Huntington School would be renovated to house central offices and adult education. Wequonnoc School in Taftville would become a virtual learning center.

    Thomas Mahan, Veterans’ Memorial schools, Bishop Early Learning Center and central offices in the former John Mason School would be discontinued.

    The three committee members who opposed the motion wanted a second report for three elementary schools for 700 students each at the Moriarty, Stanton and Greeneville sites.

    Prior to the vote, DRA officials reviewed all options for renovating existing schools, building new on existing school grounds and three potential new sites. The committee agreed with the firm’s analysis that renovating the existing buildings would be difficult and cause logistical problems, needing up to two years of interim “swing” space, or temporary space for displaced classes, during construction.

    DRA will present its report to the Board of Education at its 5:30 p.m. meeting June 14 at Kelly Middle School. A public informational meeting will be held June 21, and a presentation to the City Council on July 5.

    Committee members and the architects shared concern and puzzlement at the lack of public input thus far in the monumental project to reshape the city’s public school system. Only three parents attended the last public forum, despite notifications sent to all school parents.

    “The first two meetings were too lightly attended for a city this size and a project of this scope,” said Gregory Smolley, DRA senior project manager. “It’s probably no one’s fault, but it hurts the project, because now it’s trying to gain traction.”

    City officials hope to receive approval by the school board and City Council this summer and place a referendum question on the Nov. 8 election ballot.

    Cheryl Hancin-Preston, who attended the meeting held on Zoom, suggested the committee publicize the upcoming meetings at well-attended city recreation events.

    The building committee formed a four-member public outreach committee Tuesday to better publicize the project.

    During Tuesday’s presentation, Smolley reviewed potential new sites between Franklin and Chestnut streets downtown and on Ox Hill Road across from Kelly Middle School and behind the Rose City Senior Center. Both sites were ruled out. The city does not own the Ox Hill site, and the downtown site is too small and hampered by potential flood hazards.

    At the 14-acre Moriarty property on Lawler Lane, a new two-story school could be built on and around the baseball field. A new baseball field with a better geographical orientation would be created at the current school site, Smolley said.

    The 24-acre Stanton School site is hampered by wetlands and a piped stream beneath the front of the existing building. Architects proposed a two-story school, built into an existing slope, reserving flat ground for athletic fields and playgrounds.

    Uncas School's 11 acres is smaller than the desired 17 acres, Smolley said. DRA proposed a new school on the upper flat area behind the school and straightening Elizabeth Street Extension for better traffic flow.

    The former Greeneville School site on Golden Street, closest to the population center for school-aged children, is the best new site, Smolley said. The city owns the parcel and adjacent property that extends to Boswell Avenue for better access. Architects proposed a two-story building with a road from Golden Street to Boswell Avenue.

    One difficulty is the steep slopes, greater than 5% on the property.

    “This is why they invented dynamite and big equipment,” Smolley said.


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