Groton holds first community forum on new school construction plan
Groton — About 40 people attended the first of two community meetings Thursday on a proposal to build one new middle school and two new elementary schools at a cost to local taxpayers of $94.8 million.
The proposal, called the Groton 2020 Plan, would build a new 169,000-square-foot middle school next to Robert E. Fitch High School to create a campus environment, then build two new 86,000-square-foot elementary schools at the site of Carl C. Cutler and West Side middle schools.
The plan would reduce the total number of schools in Groton from 10 to 8, closing Pleasant Valley, Claude Chester and S.B. Butler elementary schools, which are an average of 62 years old.
Superintendent Michael Graner told the audience Groton has a "looming problem" in its public schools and must make them more effective, competitive and racially balanced. "We are inefficient," he said. "We have a racial imbalance problem that people are not interested in solving with another squiggling of lines."
The second community meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on May 28 in the Town Hall Annex.
The hour-long presentation focused on the need to improve educational quality by providing modern schools rather than spending more money to upgrade decades-old buildings. Attending to the capital needs of Groton's existing elementary schools alone would cost the district about $27 million, the presenters explained.
Jim Gustavson, who has two children attending elementary school, said he's been inside new and old schools in town and believes the quality of elementary facilities should be consistent.
"Given the age of the schools, they probably do need it," he said of the project.
The total plan would cost $191.7 million, but Groton taxpayers would pay $94.8 million due to state reimbursement.
The town would issue bonds to pay for construction costs, with principal and interest repaid over 23 years through increases in the mill rate. The impact on the average homeowner would vary yearly depending on the repayment rate, and range from a low of $54 per $100,000 of assssed value in 2017 to a high of $238 per $100,000 in 2020, according to a fact sheet of frequently asked questions provided at the meeting.
Based on the median home value of $247,000, assessed and taxed at 70 percent of the market value, the average additional cost to the homeowner would be $262. The homeowner would see a maximum cost of $411 in 2020.
Construction would begin in August 2017 on the new middle school for 938 students in grades 6 through 8, according to a preliminary timeline. Building would take two years.
Work on the two new elementary schools would begin in Janurary 2018, at the sites of the existing middle schools, while students are still in the buildings until the middle shool was finished in the summer of 2019.
Marilyn Goodman, a retired teacher who taught for 35 years in Groton, said she had two concerns about the plan. First, she said it seemed like it moved quickly from a brainstorming session to a proposal. Second, she said she was concerned about the size of the schools.
"When I was at West Side, the thing that was best about West Side was it was small. There were 300 kids, and I knew every kid," she said. But a larger school could work depending on how it was set up, so she hasn't made up her mind, she said.
"I'm kind of leaning toward no, but that's why I came here," she said.