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$7.5 Million Borrowing up for Vote After Durham-Middlefield Opts ‘No’ on Closure

MIDDLEFIELD/DURHAM — After rejecting the closure of John Lyman Elementary school in November, residents of Middlefield and Durham will be asked to return to the polls in February to vote on $7.5 million in bonding for renovations to the school. 

After the Nov. 2, 2021 referendum to close the school failed despite gaining majority support in Durham, the district contracted the firm Silver Petrucelli to produce an up-to-date report on what upgrades and repairs needed to be made in order to keep the school functioning. 

The report broke down the upgrades into four priority levels. The most urgent changes, levels one and two, include replacing the fire alarm system and exterior doors, making the restrooms accessible, making repairs to the parking lot and replacing boilers, unit ventilators and exhaust fans that are at the end of their useful life. These repairs would cost $4.8 million. 

Less urgent priorities include installing new playground equipment and replacing pavement in the play area, getting rid of asbestos under the floor, replacing ceiling tiles, installing a generator and relocating IT equipment — repairs that would cost $1.8 million. 

The firm calculated that it would cost a total of $6.6 million to make all the upgrades to the school, but Silver Petrucelli advised the district to budget $9 million to account for possible price increases and added costs. 

Superintendent Doug Schuch said the $7.5 million bond seemed like a “reasonable compromise” that would cover the immediate cost of the most pressing repairs while also building in a cushion for inflation.  

The regional board of education also considered the option to renovate the building to “as new” condition, which would have allowed the district to make changes to the layout of the school and potentially receive additional reimbursement from the state.But a number of board members said they felt the cost was too high and might not pass in a referendum, according to minutes from the December 8 and December 15 board of education meetings. 

Silver Petruceli estimated that the cost to renovate the building “as new,” which would involve bringing the building up to code, removing hazardous materials and guaranteeing that all the equipment would have a life of at least 20 years, would be $13.5 million. 

Board chair Lucy Petrella told CT Examiner in an email that the $7.5 million would be “more than sufficient” for the repairs, and said that they were expecting some funding from the state as well. 

Petrella said in an email that the renovate-as-new option would also cause more disruption to the students. She also said that they were not sure how much the district would have received from the state. 

Robert Moore, a board member and former chair of the board, said that other than the mechanical parts that needed upgrading, the school building was in good shape, and he added that other school buildings in the district also had needs that were being bonded for. 

Schuch said that the goal of the $7.5 million would be to do all the high priority items and then supplement with as many of the lower priority items as possible. Taking care of all the necessary facility upgrades at once, he said, would mean the least possible disruption. 

“If you’re going to disrupt the school … you don’t want to come back in a year later,” said Schuch. 

Kim Neubig, the district’s finance director, said that the additional bonding would raise the budget by .75 percent, or $276,000, in the 2022-23 school year, a number that would fluctuate based on interest rates. 

She said that they didn’t yet know what the district could expect in reimbursement from the state.  

Schuch said that it was important to get the repairs done soon. He said that while the district maintenance staff had done a good job making the current systems last as long as possible, the amount the district would have to pay to quickly fix something like a broken boiler would be prohibitive. 

“We don’t want to be in that scenario,” said Schuch. 

Schuch said that if the referendum passes, the district would immediately begin work for the repairs, which he estimated would take two years to complete. He said that most of the repairs would not disrupt day-to-day learning, and that some could be done over the summer. 

Schuch said the new equipment the district invests in is intended to last 20 years. 

 “This is not some type of patchwork thing to just keep the school open for a couple of years,” said Schuch. “If we make these investments our intent is to be in the building long term.”

The referendum will take place on February 8 from 6 am to 8 pm in both Durham and Middlefield.

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