Having received a less than favorable report on the possibility of returning the fifth and sixth grades to the elementary schools, the Ad-hoc School Facilities Committee will look at some more options as part of its more than year-long probe into what school could be closed in light of declining enrollment.
One possibility now being considered is the closing of Reed Intermediate School while a second would be the partial closing of a school – or at least designating the space for other uses.
The committee, which met last Tuesday at the Municipal Center, was to have issued its final decision but delayed the action in order to give members more time.
“I feel like I need to go through all of this information and read through it,” Legislative Council member Kathy Fetchick, who also serves on the committee, said in advocating for a delay in issuing a decision. “I just feel like it would be premature of us even though the committee has been together for some time. We have been given a lot of information over the last three meetings.”
, the committee has been tasked at looking at the possibility of closing a school in light of declining enrollment. The committee's work would then be used as input into a study of town space needs in light of demands for community centers, senior centers and other uses.
However, the process has been stalled as the work of the Ad-hoc School Facilities Committee has been slow going.
Early in the process, the due to the concern that the district may be caught off guard if real estate sales in one part of the town take off and more school children move into a particular sector of town.
Another possibility – the closing of Newtown Middle School and moving of grades sixth through eighth to Reed – it would cost to obtain portables and renovate Reed to accommodate those three grades as opposed to the fifth and sixth graders that school now serves. That apparent conclusion led the group to look at .
However, elementary school principals, all of whom attended last Tuesday’s meeting, told the committee that building constraints would likely make the return of sixth grade to elementary schools difficult. In their analysis, the principals took a look at the impact to their schools should such a set-up be recommended starting in the 2019-20 school year.
For instance, at Hawley, some of the classrooms are too small for sixth graders, according to principal Jo-Ann Peters. Also, a newly created café can only accommodate 90 students, and grades would need to be split for lunch, else the school would need to run seven lunch waves between 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The school also would likely need to send two grade levels out for recess at any one time.
At Head O’ Meadow School, space and time constraints also would mean sending two grade levels out to recess at the same time and additional space would be needed for specialized programs, such as Project Adventure, health, art and music classes, according to principal Barbara Gasparine.
At Middle Gate, the school would have to lose its computer room and either the reading center or math/science room in order to create additional classrooms, according to principal Chris Geissler.
At Sandy Hook, the need to create additional classroom space would mean the loss of the language arts center, special education classrooms, auxiliary library, auxiliary music room and occupational and physical therapy space, according to principal Dawn Hochsprung. The gym and some classrooms also are too small for sixth graders.
Due to some of those issues, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson suggested the committee examine as an alternative, the possible closing of Reed School, or returning it to the town’s use, and moving sixth, seventh and eighth grades to Newtown Middle School.
That option still needs to be examined as the middle school is only 10,000 square-feet larger than Reed and may not be able to accommodate all three grades without the addition of portables or other renovation, officials said.
Robinson also said another possibility would be to move district offices to unused space at a school and return to the town the space district officials now occupy at the Municipal Center.
Committee members said they wanted to broaden that possibility by looking at whether a part of a school could be closed for educational purposes but re-used for another purpose – for instance, possibly using part of Reed as a senior center.
However, because their purview only deals with school uses, committee members cautioned school officials to not assume what town services would go into any space vacated by educators. Those considerations – if the committee were to recommend that – would go to the town to determine how the space would be used, members said.
Committee members said they planned to meet again sometime in January.