MADISON — Voters on Tuesday approved three projects that have long been under discussion in the town: an $89 million building and renovation project for the current schools, the conversion of the former Academy School building to a community center and the sale of the former Island Avenue School to Our Lady of Mercy Preparatory Academy.
The voters approved the school project and the community center with about 2,700 voting for the projects and 2,200 voting against. The Island Avenue sale was approved with about 3,600 voting yes and 1,350 voting against.
First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons said she was excited to be able to move forward on the projects.
“These have been issues that have been debated and talked about for many years, and I think it was time to get an answer on these questions,” said Lyons.
The school renewal project includes four parts: constructing a new pre-kindergarten to fifth grade elementary school, closing Jeffrey and Ryerson Elementary Schools and the Town Campus Learning Center, converting Brown Intermediate School into a kindergarten to fifth grade school and renovating Polson Middle School. Completion of the project is aimed for 2025.
The majority of the people who spoke with CT Examiner at the polls voiced support for the project.
Resident Ryan McMillian told CT Examiner he was pleased with the amount of information the board had provided about the project. He said he believed it was a good decision.
“I think you move to a town like Madison to have good schools,” he said. “It’s worth the investment.”
Amy Casey, who has three small children, said she felt it was necessary to address the state of the schools now, despite the cost.
“Our kids are lucky to be here [in Madison],” she said, adding that she hoped others would vote yes.
In a public forum in November on the school renewal project, residents brought up concerns about a pattern of declining enrollment, as well as the increased taxes that the project would require residents to pay — an average of $153 per $100,000 of assessed property value per year over 24 years.
Some of the people at the polls echoed those points.
“I think it’s too much money to be spending,” said Davide Mendonca. He added that he believed the district should prioritize students and teachers rather than buildings, particularly with the projected enrollment declines.
“It’s a huge amount of money. Many of us who live in a certain part of town already pay a disproportionate amount of taxes,” added another resident who declined to give his name.
Others, however, said they believed the return on investment in the schools was worth the tax hike.
“I think our taxes are very reasonable,” said Maureen Gagliano, adding that she believed having good schools kept the property values high.
“I’d just as soon have them increase for the schools,” said Jerry Rourke.
A prior referendum to build a new Ryerson Elementary School and renovate Jeffrey Elementary School failed in 2017. In 2018, a working group made up of members of the Board of Education, the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance came together to discuss other options for the schools. After considering over 50 options, the working group recommended the current $89 million project.
Seth Klaskin, chair of the board of education, said he was thrilled with the results.
“The Madison Schools Renewal plan is really the best way forward for our school community and for the town as a whole. And we’re definitely pleased to see that Madison supports this plan and we thank everyone who came out to vote today,” said Klaskin.
Residents also approved allocating $15.9 million to convert the former Academy School into a community center. While some voters told CT Examiner they supported the project, others said they felt there were better uses for the site.
The center will include a gymnasium, theater and commercial kitchen, as well as offices and programming space for the town’s Youth and Family Services and Beach and Recreation departments. In taxes, it will add an average of $28 per $100,000 per year for 24 years, in addition to the tax increases from the school renewal project.
Lyons said the next step would be to establish a building committee that could look for any grants the town would be able to apply for and put together a Request for Proposals for the building’s construction.
The sale of the former Island Avenue school to Our Lady of Mercy Preparatory Academy for $2.3 million would take place in March, according to Lyons. The K-8 Catholic School has been leasing the building since the fall of 2019.
Voter turnout for the referendum was just over 35 percent.
Editor’s note: this story has been updated to include additional cost figures for the community center