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    Friday, August 12, 2022

    Norwich proposed $381 million school construction project takes first step forward

    Norwich — It would cost city taxpayers more to do maintenance and repairs to the aged, existing seven elementary schools than to build four new schools, architects hired by the city told a sparse gathering at a public presentation on the $381 million proposal.

    After an estimated 67% state reimbursement, city taxpayers’ share of the $381 million project would be $149 million. But if the city chose a “do nothing” option, project architects said the necessary repairs alone to the seven existing elementary schools and one older middle school would cost an estimated $165 million over the next 20 years, with “precious little” state reimbursement.

    Even if the city chose to renovate the existing buildings, the cost would be comparable to building new schools, and in the end, only three of the seven elementary schools would be large enough to meet current education needs, the architects said.

    Following the presentation by representatives from the architectural firm Drummey Rosane Anderson Inc., or DRA, the School Building Committee on Tuesday unanimously endorsed a preliminary master plan that calls for new elementary schools to house about 525 students in preschool through fifth grade and to extensively renovate the existing Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Middle School.

    New schools would be built on the grounds of the Moriarty Environmental Sciences Magnet School, the John B. Stanton School and Uncas School and property where the Greeneville School had stood.

    The plan also calls for school central offices to move, along with adult education, into the Huntington School. Wequonnoc School in Taftville would become a virtual learning center.

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

    Following the endorsement, the committee, along with Mayor Peter Nystrom and three aldermen, set a schedule for additional public presentations and potential City Council endorsement. The council will hold a workshop to hear the presentation at 6 p.m. next Tuesday. The following Monday, July 11, the City Council will hold a public informational meeting with a detailed presentation by the architects followed by questions and comments from the audience. The council hopes to introduce the formal ordinance to bond for the project at its July 18 meeting and hold a public hearing Aug. 1.

    The schedule calls for placing the project to voters in a referendum on the Nov. 8 election ballot.

    School Building Committee Chairman Mark Bettencourt said he was disappointed with the low turnout at the very important presentation Tuesday on the future of the school system. Notices on the meeting presentation were sent home with all schoolchildren prior to the close of school last week.

    During the presentation, Gregory Smolley, DRA senior project manager, stressed the costs of doing nothing compared to the proposed four new buildings and renovated middle school. Bettencourt said the committee needs to stress the higher costs of trying to keep the existing inadequate buildings going, with longer bus rides, cramped classrooms and inequitable education depending on a family’s neighborhood.

    School board member Mark Kulos said one problem that will be difficult to sell to voters is that the entire $381 million cost must be placed on the referendum question. If the project is approved by the state, the city would be reimbursed at regular intervals as construction moves forward, Smolley said.

    “What it comes down to is, it’s $165 million over 20 years to repair schools that don’t meet our needs,” Alderwoman and School Building Committee member Stacy Gould said. “Or we spend $149 million to build schools that will meet our needs for the next 20 to 30 years. That’s the apples-to-apples.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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