School examines three options for renovations

WILTON – Everybody likes the aesthetics of the old part of Florence Rideout Elementary School, which was built in 1895 to serve as the town’s high school. It has charm, ambience and a lot of history scrawled on the walls of its spacious attic.

And everyone likes the 1930s-era gym, with its wonderful windows and old charm. They also love Whiting Park, also known as “The Flat” – the open space between the school and Park Street.

But when it came to listing their dislikes, the 30 or so people attending a forum at the school last Saturday found a lot to complain about. The session was hosted by the school’s building committee to gain public input into the selection of a renovation plan to be presented to voters in March. Tours of the school were offered prior to the forum.

Those attending said the cafeteria is too small, the nurse’s office too congested, and heating and lighting systems are bad. Other complaints included: too many points of entry and little or no security; an unidentified front entrance; terrible traffic flow and parking; the need for children to go outside when moving between buildings, which poses both a safety and security hazard; basement bathrooms that are inadequate; classroom doors that don’t function properly; and noisy, old radiators.

Besides all that, architect Kyle Barker noted that many classrooms are below standard size, the two grand staircases in the old building – the only way down from the second floor – end in the same hallway, which violates safety codes. There is an outside fire escape from the library, but it not enclosed and unusable in bad weather.

The building committee planned to recommend one of three options to the school board Thursday, Oct. 23. Whatever the school board decides will appear on the ballot in March. Last March, an expansion plan was defeated, falling 26 votes short of the required two-thirds needed for approval.

The current capacity is about 300, and enrollment in kindergarten through sixth grade is slightly more than that.

The three plans include the original, with a 400-student core capacity (library, cafeteria, gym), classroom space for 350 and three classrooms per grade (four more classrooms than the school currently has). Under this plan, the 1950s addition in front of the gym would be removed, and the space between the old building and the gym would be filled with a three-level addition with a new entry lobby for administration and a nurse’s office in front of the gym. The cafeteria would be moved to the rear, allowing for secure student access from buses during inclement weather.

Option B is a scaled-down version of the first plan, offering core space for 350, renovations to meet current codes and rehabilitation of the 1950s classroom wing. A portion of the interior space would be filled with classrooms, with two new ones added. It would enlarge the cafeteria and the nurse’s area, add space for technology and add handicapped-accessible bathrooms on all three floors.

Option C is a minimum plan to meet life-safety codes by changing the staircases, adding a connector between the buildings and a new corridor to the 1950s wing. The cafeteria and kitchen would be renovated and somewhat enlarged, but would still be below standard. The library would move to a lower floor, and the present library would be made into two classrooms.

Option A was the most popular with those attending since it met most of the objections raised.

Because of fluctuating prices and the general economy, Barker said costs have not been figured at this point. However, he said, prices have gone up about 20 percent in the last year. The cost of Option A last year was $8.3 million before factoring in state aid. Option B would be about 10 percent less than Option A, and Option C would cost about 20 percent less, he said.