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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    Norwich City Council praises proposed $381 million school construction project

    Norwich — City Council members on Tuesday found a lot to like in the proposed $381 million school construction plan that would give the city four new elementary schools, a renovated middle school and new central offices for about $75 million less than chasing maintenance and repairs on the current aging and undersized schools.

    Following a detailed presentation on the plan by representatives from the architectural firm Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc., or DRA, aldermen stressed the real and projected savings the massive project would yield and praised the architects and School Building Committee for their efforts.

    After an estimated 67% state reimbursement, city taxpayers’ share of the $381 million project would be $149 million, substantially less than an alternative “do nothing” option to keep the existing seven elementary schools, an unrenovated Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Middle School and central office building.

    Maintenance and repairs alone to the existing buildings are projected  to cost $165 million over the next 20 years at today’s dollars, and $275.8 million with inflation. Very little of the work would qualify for state reimbursement, the architects said.

    The proposal calls for new elementary schools, each housing about 525 students, on the grounds of the Moriarty Environmental Sciences Magnet School, the John B. Stanton School, the Uncas School and property where the Greeneville School once stood. Teachers’ Memorial would undergo a complete renovation to put it on par with the recently renovated Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School.

    DRA Project Manager Greg Smolley said the locations are central to projected future city population growth saving on transportation costs and and have adequate property for new playgrounds and sports fields at each location.

    School central offices and adult education would move to the Samuel 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.

    Alderman Derell Wilson said savings with the new project go beyond the energy efficient new buildings and lower maintenance costs. With more space and better facilities, Norwich could bring home special education students now transported to specialty schools outside the city.

    Wilson said he also liked the prospect of having new playgrounds and sports fields at each school.

    “The quick sound bite is, we would have four new elementary schools and a completely renovated and larger second middle school for $75 million less than if we pour money into the school system that we already have,” Council President Pro Tempore Joseph DeLucia said.

    He added that the city would have three or four surplus buildings that could be sold or repurposed, one perhaps for a community center that residents have requested repeatedly.

    Mayor Peter Nystrom requested the architects and School Building Committee include local school readiness program leaders in the discussions about including full preschools in each building. Norwich school readiness program, headed by the LEARN regional education agency, receives federal grants for more than 300 preschool slots in the city.

    The City Council will hold a similar presentation for the public at 6 p.m. next Monday, July 11, in Council Chambers, with time for questions and comments.

    The City Council will introduce an ordinance for bonding for the proposed school project at its July 18 meeting, with a public hearing on the ordinance planned for Aug. 1. The city must submit referendum ballot question wording to the Secretary of the State’s office by Sept. 1 to get the item on the Nov. 8 election ballot.

    The School Building Committee endorsed the master plan for the project last week. The presentation will be posted on the city’s website, www.norwichct.org.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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