Manchester Begins Multi-Million Dollar Schools Projects

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Text by Jesse Leavenworth, Hartford Courant; video by Angelica Spanos, FOX CT

MANCHESTER — The school superintendent has drafted a proposed action plan and schedule to guide the board of education on school building projects.

The board will meet Monday at 7 p.m. in Lincoln Center to consider the documents prepared by interim Superintendent Richard Kisiel.

The first item on the schedule is a public forum on Feb. 5 on a proposed fifth- and sixth-grade school that would cost local taxpayers about $7 million. The forum is set for 7 p.m. at Bennet Academy on Main Street.

Kisiel’s proposed action plan flows from recommendations from the School Modernization and Reinvestment Team Revisited (SMARTR). The panel has proposed an overhaul of the school system, including renovating and expanding two elementary schools to accommodate up to 525 students each and closing up to two elementary schools

The SMARTR plan is meant to address pressing repairs and updates to school buildings and to maximize state reimbursements on expansion and renovation projects. The plan also is desgned to racially balance schools for the longterm to comply with state mandates and to provide equity, so all students are in modern facilities with equal access to technology.

The school board has made no decisions on which schools to renovate or close. The board has endorsed SMARTR’s recommendation to create a new fifth- and sixth-grade school, which is the linchpin of the overall plan.

Kisiel said the board, after hearing public comments, will decide whether to reaffirm its approval of the proposed school, which would combine Bennet Academy with the vacant Cheney Building. The board is to vote on the proposed school at its Feb. 10 meeting, according to Kisiel’s schedule.

The board then would consider SMARTR’s recommendation on the elementary school renovations, expansions and closings. That process, including a public forum, would stretch through early April, with a board decision on April 7 that would then go to the board of directors. Kisiel said a November referendum on school building projects could include just the proposed fifth- and sixth-grade school, or another combination of projects, depending on town and district leaders’ decisions.

Under the SMARTR plan to modernize the district by 2020, local taxpayers would pay a total of about $60 million after reimbursements, school officials have said.

If the fifth- and sixth-grade school is not approved, the alternative is renovations to eight elementary schools on their current footprints (not including Highland Park School, which was recently renovated and expanded). The state would reimburse these smaller scale projects at a much lower rate, and local taxpayers would be responsible for about $120.7 million of the cost, according to SMARTR.

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