60% at space needs forum back new school on new site

LYNDEBOROUGH – A new elementary school on a new site is the direction the town should take.

That was the opinion of about 60 percent of those attending a public forum on school space needs Monday. Asked to list the four choices in order of preference, 41 of 73 residents picked a new school as their first choice.

A small addition was favored by 12 voters; a large addition by nine voters; and portable classrooms plus renovations by 11 voters.

The School Board will now prepare a warrant article for district meeting in March asking for funds for an architect. If a new school is approved, it could be completed by the fall of 2007.

A cost-comparison chart shows that a new school, estimated at $2.8 million, would add about $266 annually to the taxes on a $200,000 home. The state pays 30 percent of new construction projects.

The hour-long meeting was moderated by School Board Chairman Geoffrey Brock, who illustrated his points with pictures taken within the Central School. Pictures included a crowded special education room; therapists working with students in the hall; the parking lot at the close of school; the narrowness of the halls when filled with coats; and the tiny nurse’s office.

Brock noted that only two of the school’s six classrooms meet current state standards for size; the computer lab and library are too small; the kitchen is located on the main hallway; and the building does not have a sprinkler system.

A sprinkler system is not required in small schools “but is highly recommended,” he said.

The bathrooms are not handicapped-accessible, Brock said, “and if we get a student in a wheelchair, we will have to fix that. That should be corrected now.”

Asked if a portable would be needed until a new school is built, Brock said, “We are coping now.”

Asked why the sixth grade can’t be moved to the middle school in Wilton, Brock said, “We asked that, and Wilton doesn’t want to move their sixth grade. They would rather add on to their elementary school. We asked about renting space, and the school board said there wasn’t room,” given the size of incoming classes.

Brock also noted, “This would be the last addition at this site. After this, we will have to build a new school.”

Asked about kindergarten, Assistant Superintendent Carolann Wais said, “The state board has passed new minimum standards that include kindergarten. (The standards) have not yet been adopted by the Legislature.”

The present school could become a safety complex, housing fire and police. Costs of renovating the building for that use was estimated at about $200,000. But, Brock noted, “They are thinking $1 million for a new complex.”

Projected population increases were discussed several times. Previous projections have all been too high, several residents noted. Also mentioned were the number of new houses, the high percentage of home-schooled students, and those attending private schools.

“We can’t guarantee what the population will do,” Brock said. “We will continue to need more space. The population isn’t going down.”

The current school enrollment is under 100, but “only because the third grade has only eight students,” Brock said. Average class size is about 18. There are 24 students in grade 6.

A new school would require a minimum of seven acres under state standards, Brock said, adding that the board has “looked at sites, but we don’t want to tip our hand.”