LYME/OLD LYME — The Board of Education voted on Wednesday to ask Rusty Malik of QA+M Architecture to provide more detailed estimates for three options — one that includes only basic upgrades and HVAC renovations, one that would move the district’s kindergarten to Center School, and one that would build additions onto Mile Creek Elementary School.
The most basic project, at a a cost of $42 million, will include renovations at Mile Creek, Lyme Consolidated, Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School and Center School, including HVAC upgrades.
“Our HVAC systems are, at best, 20 years old … at worst, some of them were built in the 1960s,” said school Superintendent Ian Neviaser.
Board members agreed about the need to upgrade the systems in current buildings.
“From an HVAC standpoint, I’m 100 percent onboard – we need to do something.” said board member Chris Staab “[Facilities] are piecemealing together to keep it going.”
But board members also questioned the high cost of the upgrades. Board Chair Steve Wilson said that he wanted to see a detailed list of all the items that needed to be fixed in order to better understand the cost of each item.
“To me $45 million seems like a lot of money,” said Wilson.
Malik told board members that the State is expected to consider new legislation that, if passed, may grant some state funding to schools upgrading HVAC systems.
Other options presented to the board focused on expanding and renovating facilities in anticipation of a projected enrollment increase in the elementary schools.
Neviaser said that there were currently 511 students in Mile Creek and Lyme Consolidated School, and that the maximum the schools could hold based on current class sizes is 570 students. According to enrollment projections used by the district, the schools will surpass that number by 2024-25.
Staab said he was wary of making additions onto the schools based on numbers he felt were inflated by the COVID pandemic. He said he felt that people might move back to their original homes and that the school numbers would decrease.
Board members Martha Shoemaker and Suzanne Thompson, both voiced the need to plan for the future.
The board eventually voted to remove from consideration the idea of building a new K-5 school in the district — the most expensive of the options, at a cost of $62.7 million.
The board also rejected a proposal to build onto Lyme Consolidated School, after Neviaser advised members that the school lacked sufficient space.
“We are very tight up there,” said Neviaser, adding that people were already parking on the sidewalk because of the lack of space.
The board also voted to consider an addition onto Mile Creek School, which would cost $45.1 million.
Board member Laura Dean-Frazier further suggested that the board consider converting Mile Creek and Lyme Consolidated Schools into pre-k to 3rd-grade schools and converting Center School to a 4th and 5th grade school. Dean-Frazier said the idea would allow 4th and 5th graders more opportunity for independence and to transition onto the same campus as the middle and high schools.
But administrators at the district preschool warned that the idea would require splitting special teachers and the pre-k resources between two schools.
“Any option that we look at, we want to make sure we are maintaining the quality of the special programs that we’ve put in place,” said Kelly Enoch, principal of Mile Creek Elementary School.
Board members also voted to consider moving the kindergarten to Center School, at a cost of about $45.5 million, but board member Jason Kemp raised concerns that the idea would increase the cost of transportation, given that the district would need to bus the kindergartners separately to Center School. The move would also require renovating Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School to accommodate meetings of the Board of Education and alternative programs currently located in Center School.
The board voted against purchasing a separate property to house the Board of Education offices.
Malik said he would return to the board with more detailed estimates for each of the three models. He estimated it would cost the district an additional $5,000 for the estimates.