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Facilities Panel Looks At Closing Middle School, Converting Reed



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Facilities Panel Looks At

Closing Middle School, Converting Reed

By Eliza Hallabeck

The Newtown School Facilities Study Ad Hoc Committee narrowed its focus at its Monday, June 27, meeting to researching the issue of closing Newtown Middle School, if student enrollment reductions make it a feasible option.

During and after the meeting committee members pointed out closing a school is not something that will happen for at least a few years. Board of Education Chair William Hart made note that student enrollment, as projected in a study prepared by H.C. Planning Consultants of Orange in the winter of 2010, may not drop to the needed population low until between 2014 and 2017.

“This is a proposal that is seven years out, and it will depend on how many students we can fit at Reed with a reasonable expansion, how much the population does go down… and what kind of conversion cost it would entail,” said Mr Hart.

During the previous meeting of the Newtown School Facilities Study Ad Hoc Committee, the group looked into the option of closing an elementary school, but decided at Monday’s meeting that closing an elementary school would leave the district with fewer options in the event the student population increases after the change.

Mr Hart said, following the meeting, closing the middle school is the best educational option, because it also decreases the number of transitions students make between schools.

By the end of Monday’s meeting the committee asked Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson to designate a “working group” of administrators and staff from the district to “hone in” and “dig deeper” on the numbers, considerations, and needs of closing the middle school.

“I always assumed that once we knew of all the options, what we thought was the best, there would be a second level of much more detailed work, drilling down in much greater detail to go along with things that [First Selectman Pat Llodra] is doing, and fine tune it,” said Mr Hart at the meeting.

While the committee’s recommendation will not be formal until after the working group provides a detailed report to the committee during a scheduled meeting for August 15, Mr Hart said he plans to “keep everyone up to date,” including the Board of Education.

Dr Robinson and School District Business Manager Ronald Bienkowski presented preliminary costs associated with closing the middle school and converting Reed Intermediate School, during the meeting. Dr Robinson, Mr Bienkowski, and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Gejda worked on the report.

Dr Robinson said five rooms at Reed would need to be converted into science labs, at an estimated cost of $2 million. While Dr Robinson said School Facilities Director Gino Faiella thinks adding a permanent structure at Reed to add classroom space would be difficult, he did say adding portable classrooms, like the ones on the Sandy Hook School property, could work on Reed’s campus. The “core facilities,” which include Reed’s library and gymnasium, Dr Robinson said, are adequate for incorporating the middle school population into Reed. Further costs associated with converting Reed Intermediate School to house the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades will be looked into by the working group.

The committee primarily looked at the option of moving fifth graders to the elementary schools, and the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades to Reed, but Mr Hart said another option could be moving both the sixth and fifth grades to the elementary schools, if a drop in the population allows for it.

Following the meeting, Legislative Council member and Newtown School Facilities Study Ad Hoc Committee member Kathy Fetchick said if both the fifth and sixth grades were moved to the elementary schools, there would be no need for portable classrooms to be placed at Reed.

Mr Hart said it is his hope to take advantage of potential cost savings connected to closing the middle school, if possible, while maintaining quality education in Newtown.

“Of all the facilities we have in this town, [the middle school] is the one in most need of refurbishment,” said Mr Hart.

Dr Robinson said the Newtown School Facilities Study Ad Hoc Committee has collected a lot of data and done “quite a bit of work and research” into the option of closing a school. Moving forward, she said, it will be the working group’s duty to compile further information on converting Reed Intermediate School to house the middle school’s population.

She also said in the last school year there has been a decline in student enrollment by about 90 students, but said that reduction is not enough to speculate on future enrollment in the district.

“You don’t want to draw conclusions,” Dr Robinson said. “I’d have to see what happens next year, but it is certainly not the drop that was expected.”

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