Town Council receives update on School Building Project

The Town Council heard updates on the School Building Project from School Building Advisory Committee (SBAC) members Corrine Bell and Michael Hussey, and School Board Chair Elizabeth Scifres at the June 3, 2024 council workshop.

Bell, who voted in favor of building a new middle school with Option E, presented the reasons why she and three fellow committee members preferred this option over the Option B.  On May 9 the SBAC voted 5-4 in favor of supporting Option B.   According to Bell, building a new middle school is the most effective long-term solution which directly satisfies all middle school programmatic requirements: efficiency upgrades, security improvements, healthy building/systems, cafeteria improvements, right-size/functional needs, gathering and collaboration hubs, agile/flexible classrooms, layout modification, and outdoor learning play.   Additionally, Option E would provide essential improvements to the elementary school and high school.

Hussey, who voted in favor of building an addition and providing renovations to the middle and elementary schools with Option B, presented reasons why he and four committee members selected this option over Option E.  According to Hussey, Option B is the fastest and most cost effective path to nearly new schools by: equitably addressing needs across all schools, protecting against infrastructure failures, preserving green spaces, and maximizing impact while minimizing current and financial strain.

Both Bell and Hussey gave the School Board similar presentations at a School Board workshop held May 21.  "It was an incredibly close vote and neither was a consensus, so we needed to hear from both," Chair Scifres said. Following the presentations and board discussion with Harriman, the board directed Superintendent Christopher Record to work with Harriman Architects to develop an alternate compromise solution that includes a new middle school and improvements to the elementary and high school within a 10% tax increase.  

Scifres explained that this decision was arrived at by measuring the SBAC 5-4 vote recommendation with the following standards: the three educational programming reports; the outcome of three educational visioning workshops; the SBAC community surveys; the student experience survey; the data provided by the SBAC; and Harriman's answers to questions submitted by board members.  Additionally, the board requested Harriman to create a rubric which answers if Option B meets or does not meet the priorities of the educational programming report and does it meet the community priorities that came out of of the educational visioning workshops?  

Scifres said, "The answers were 'partially' on some, 'yes' on a few.  There's a lot of partially met, there's not a lot of 100% met.  Safety and security was not met; it was partially met. It did not remove most of the educational barriers." It became apparent to the board that the recommendation of Option B was, "Lacking from the educational report, from the goals identified.  It also didn't seem to be a wise investment of money - this is a lot of money for not a lot of return," Scifres said.  As a result, the board directed the Superintendent to work with Harriman to come up with a compromise solution.  "It became apparent that a new middle school meets the goals and has the most robust support and we can do this within a price range that the community finds palatable," Scifres said.

Scifres said that the board hopes to move forward by creating a new solution which addresses: critical upgrades at the elementary and high school; a solution that makes marked educational and safety improvements at the middle school; and will come in with a bond amount around 10%.  "We want to work with the Town Council to find a path towards this," she said.  Scifres added that she believes a solution will come in the form of a package which addresses many of the needs outlined by Harriman's Capital Needs Assessment by taking advantage of alternative funding sources used in the past [School Revolving Renovation Fund] and by the redirection of capital improvement projects costs earmarked for the middle school to the other two schools.  "If there is a new middle school, there is not maintenance," Scifres said.

Currently, Harriman is working on a compromised solution based on the direction of the School Board.  Harriman will attend the next School Board meeting on June 11 to discuss whether or not this option is feasible.  Following that meeting, the School Board and Town Council will meet for a joint workshop.  A date not has not yet been confirmed.

All materials relating to the school building project can be found here.

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