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School Board Hears Update On NMS Roof And NHS Expansion



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School Board Hears Update On NMS Roof And NHS Expansion

By Eliza Hallabeck

The Board of Education heard updates on the Newtown Middle School roof project and on the Newtown High School expansion and renovation work during its meeting on Tuesday, March 1.

“From what I understand, the expansion renovations are moving along,” said Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson.

School board member David Nanavaty, who attends Public Building and Site meetings as a liaison for the school board, and Dr Robinson also addressed the addition of a knee wall in the architect’s plans for the green house designed for the high school.

A knee wall, according to the discussion, was originally in the plans, but later removed. The new knee wall, along with creating architectural conformity at the school, will also add durability to the design, according to Mr Nanavaty. Both Mr Nanavaty and Dr Robinson were unsure during the meeting whether the addition of the knee wall will raise the project over the budgeted cost.

Other projects associated with the renovation portion of the NHS expansion and renovation project are under way, Dr Robinson said. Staff members that were located in portions of the building now under renovation have been moved to the portables on the school’s campus.

Dr Robinson also said work on the punch list for the expansion and renovation continues, under the guidance of NHS Principal Charles Dumais. Most of the wiring needed for technology in the new addition has also been set in place, according to the superintendent.

“We are making progress,” said Dr Robinson.

Mr Nanavaty then gave an update on the Newtown Middle School roof project, which is being overseen by the Public Building and Site Commission.

“The plan is to start on or about May of this year,” said Mr Nanavaty.

Some newer options in the design of the roof project, as Mr Nanavaty listed, include calculating allowable roof loading for the potential addition of solar panels either this summer or in the future, an alternate option of eliminating one of the three skylights in the school’s current cafeteria space to allow for easier snow removal, and an alternate of replacing the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems in the nurses area, guidance department, and in the auditorium.

Mr Nanavaty said the Public Building and Site commission has taken the project school Facilities Director Gino Faiella worked on and changed it while keeping the expected $1.1 million project within the same budget.

While replacing the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system over the auditorium was not in the plans for the project originally, Mr Nanavaty said the thinking behind the alternate took into account the age of the current systems. If the systems are replaced after the roof project is completed, as school board Chair William Hart pointed out, then people will be “walking around on a new roof” to replace the system.

While Mr Nanavaty said no grant is currently available to cover the cost of adding solar panels to the middle school roof, there is no reason why they cannot be added at a later time, if the project is completed with them in mind.

Removing snow from solar panels, Mr Hart said, is something he would like the school district to consider or investigate before solar panels are added to the school roof design. He also said he would like the school roof to have a load bearing capacity that is greater than the weight associated with the snow fall from January, a record-breaking snow accumulation month for the state.

To accommodate what school board member Richard Gaines called a tight schedule, Dr Robinson said she hopes to have the paperwork ready to go to the state on time. She also said roof projects are expedited by the state of Connecticut.

“When this new roof goes on,” said Dr Robinson, speaking of how the middle school staff will respond, “there is going to be a lot of happy dances.”

Reed School Update

The school board also heard a presentation by Reed Intermediate School Principal Sharon Epple that included video highlights of her school’s initiatives. The Reed Intermediate School presentation continued the school presentations made throughout the school year before the board.

After the presentation, school board Vice Chair Debbie Leidlein asked Dr Epple a number of questions, on topics regarding how the school evaluates individual cluster time spent on subjects, consultants who have visited the school, and ensuring students have the same experiences across the board at the school.

Dr Epple explained that two consultants, one a scheduling consultant and the other retired Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Donna Pagé, had been brought to the school to help smooth out Reed’s class schedule. Ms Pagé, Dr Epple said, also walks the school with her and helps determine the direction in which the school would like to move.

On Thursday, March 3, Dr Robinson said both Ms Pagé and the scheduling consultant are among other consultants who are hired districtwide throughout the year. For the scheduling consultant to work with three schools, Dr Robinson said, costs the district roughly $1,300. Ms Pagé charges $500 a day, and $250 for a half-day, for her consulting work, which extends to work on the kindergarten curriculum. Dr Robinson said hiring consultants districtwide is cost effective.

Responding to ensuring the same student experience for each fifth and sixth grader at Reed, Dr Epple said the school’s new schedule this year marked how much educational time should be spent on each subject. Beyond this, Dr Epple said it is up to the individual teacher to assess when more educational time or less is needed on certain topics. Professional Learning Communities of teachers also meet and share data, Dr Epple said.

An example would be how things like the school’s Learning Lab are handled, Dr Epple said responding to another question from Ms Leidlein regarding having guidelines for teachers to follow.

“Primarily you see some sort of academic work in that 15 minutes and then independent learning,” said Dr Epple.

After Mr Hart asked Dr Epple what she would request to help advance the school, she eventually repeated an appeal she brought before the school board during its budget deliberations a few weeks ago. Dr Epple said she would ask for a physical education teacher and the Project Adventure course at the school be reinstated, both to help the school’s schedule and to add back the Project Adventure curriculum.

Prior to the school board’s regular meeting, it heard from Connecticut Freedom of Information (FOI) Commission Public Educator Thomas Hennick, who updated the school board on matters concerning FOI.

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