Greenwich School Board wants to build a bigger Central Middle School – even if it costs more


GREENWICH — Bigger is better, was the school board’s decision to change plans for the new building to replace Central Middle School.

Consultants from Constructions Solutions Group had originally drafted educational specifications for a building that could house 511 students – the highest expected enrollment in the next eight years.

But after a split vote, the Board of Education decided to go ahead with a plan to build a new college that will accommodate a student population of 720, as they cited adding flexibility for educators, planning for eventual growth in the coming decades and creating space. for when “something unexpected happens”.

Chair Kathleen Stowe said the four school board Democrats held a caucus before last month’s meeting. But despite meeting similar opinions, Democrats, as well as Republicans, were split when voting at a special meeting on whether to opt for a plan for 511, 660, 720 or 780 students.

“I love that non-partisan vote,” Stowe said, as two members from each party voted for a building suitable for 660 students and the other four members chose the 720 student option.

The informal vote was aimed at getting consensus from the board on how to direct the consultants to proceed and a change of mind by one member pushed the decision in favor of a building for 720 pupils.

The state Department of Education will reimburse Greenwich for 10% of the expenses incurred if construction meets current enrollment forecasts. If a new central was built for more than 511 students, the city would receive a lower reimbursement rate.

Board members agreed at a meeting on June 16 that they would not seek to maximize the repayment rate, but rather that they would seek a building size with room for growth.

CSG has created a spreadsheet to show the board’s desired options and changes with each increase of 60 students.

The June 22 discussion quickly fell between the 114,748 square foot building for 660 students and the 136,112 square foot building for 720 students.

“Why do we need a bigger school for the 720 children now when we managed to educate the children with the current size school in 2002 with 760 children?” said board member Karen Kowalski, who was supportive of the 660-student plan.

Central principal Tom Healy said a smaller building puts pressure on the school’s schedule.

“You can successfully educate children in any building, but that doesn’t make it an ideal learning environment. So I think when you look at a building of this size, with this number of students, you’re looking at using every available space almost every period of every day,” he said.

Classroom requirements have increased since 2002, he said. He previously said his staff were excited to imagine an 800 square foot classroom.

“You also have the way learning has adapted and become much more collaborative. It has become much more flexible in how we plan to deliver teaching now, that you need a little more open spaces and mobility around the areas,” he said.

The board had previously mentioned redistricting as a way to relieve overcrowding at Eastern Middle School, and that idea came up again at last week’s meeting.

“I’m not talking about changing the lines now, but in 20 or 30 years when we have more students, we might have to move the lines or someone in the future might,” Stowe said. . “And you can’t expand outward. … It makes more sense for us to be thoughtful now.

Board member Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony said the board should discuss magnet programs and redistricting if Central is built with additional space.

“If we end up landing on one of those bigger numbers, we have to be prepared for another conversation about how we fill the building,” he said. “We’re building a multimillion-dollar building and then we’re expanding there over 20 or 10 years and we have underutilized rooms – it’s going to be a failure for a lot of our community.”

Board member Laura Kostin said a magnet program could help make better use of district space without forcing a family to move to a new school.

“If my child was in a packed classroom and there were fewer resources available to them, I would probably look elsewhere. And I don’t think it should be overlooked that if we were given this opportunity, we could fill this building very quickly,” she said.

Board member Cody Kittle also favored the larger build and said the extra space would come in handy during infrastructure emergencies.

“It’s Central; this is the most central area. Right now, we don’t have places to put students when something unexpected happens, and you can always expect something unexpected to happen,” he said. declared.

When Central was condemned by the city’s building department in early February, the neighborhood had to quickly find places to learn for students. Grades were bused to other schools and learned primarily on their school-provided laptops, locked away in an auditorium, cafeteria, or gymnasium.

Requirements for cafeteria space, elective classrooms, and even spaces such as janitorial storage differ with increases in student population. Due to these changes, each option has varying ability to expand to accommodate more students.

The 720-student plan has “a lot of latitude” that the 660-student option lacks, Healy said.

But the idea of ​​building for 720 students wasn’t popular with everyone, and board member Joe Kelly brought the discussion back to basics.

“The 720 will cost more; the 660 will cost less. I believe it could be boiled down to this; it is a concern,” he said. “If you build 660, you can have a better building. If you build 720, you have to give something up to do it.

Kowalski said they would have to check the cost with the Board of Estimate & Taxation to be sure they would approve the higher expenses.

“We know historically what we get and what we don’t get from BET, and we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we look like we’ve got eggs in our faces because we got really excited for a project and then it comes right back to us,” she said.

She also said she didn’t want the cost of building Central to hinder other projects, citing the sewage backup problem at Old Greenwich.

When Stowe sought consensus on the board, a show of hands split 4-4 between the 660-student and 720-student plans.

Kowalski, Kittle, Kelly and board member Christina Downey preferred the smaller option.

As they pondered what to do, anxious to end the late meeting, held the day before a graduation ceremony, Kelly held up a slip of paper: ‘I’m going to 720,’ read -he.

They raised their hands again, resulting in a 5-2-1 breakdown with Downey abstaining because she said she was on the fence.

Following the consensus, council consultants will now draft instructional specifications for a building that can comfortably accommodate 720 students.

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