Madison voters go to the polls for school construction proposal

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MADISON -- A proposal to restructure Madison elementary schools falls in the hands of the community, Tuesday.

A town referendum is being held from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the building of a new Ryerson school.

A major push behind this is the deteriorating and aging condition of facilities that were built in the 1940's and 50s, according to district leaders.

The project would cost more than $34-million with expected state reimbursement of at least $4-million.

This is the first referendum of a bigger project which also includes renovating Jeffrey School. That referendum is expected Spring 2019, at about $33.milion.

The part of the project which has many residents upset is the closing of Island Avenue. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice blames declining enrollment as one of the major reasons behind the proposal.

"We have to reduce our footprint from six schools to five schools," Scarice said. "In a few more years, were gonna be down a thousand students overall from 3500 to about 2500."

Scarice said elementary schools are less expensive to build than middle and high schools.

According to the Board of Education, closing Island Avenue School will result in about $1 million savings in operational costs annually, about $2.95-million in revenue to the town for the sale of the property, and about $90-thousand annually in property taxes.

If the two referendum's pass, the cost without state aid is around $67-million, a price tag that doesn't sit well with many residents.

"I think the biggest issue here is the town is preparing to spend 65-million dollars on brick and mortar when we should be focusing dollars on educating our children which means spending money on teachers, programs and books," Parent Chip Walz said.

Walz believes schools should be renovated but sees building as a waste of money saying if enrollment is going down, building a new school is counter intuitive.

"Whenever you spend money on large projects like this, inevitably you have to pay for them for decades into the future and that will eat into the programs and the teachers if we god forbid ever go through a financial crisis in town like we had in 2008," he said.

Tuesday's referendum focuses on building a new Ryerson School and if passed it would open Septmebr 2020. In place of the old school would be playing fields.

According to the plan, Island Avenue School will remain open until June 2022 so that Jeffrey School could be cleared out for renovation, if voted through.

"If this referendum fails it will be incredibly disruptive to our youngest learners over the next 5-10 years by doing projects while kids are in school, and we will be competing among our funds for what we have to do for mandatory maintenance projects and for money for kids in the classroom," Superintendent Scarice said.

For a closer look at the Madison School's outline, click here.