LYME/OLD LYME – Citing concerns about space at Mile Creek, the Board of Education voted to authorize Rusty Malik of QA + M Architecture to speak with the state of Connecticut about a facilities plan that would expand Mile Creek Elementary School.
The discussion represents the next step in the district’s plan to renovate four of the district’s five schools: Mile Creek, Lyme Consolidated School, Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School and Center School.
The renovations include upgrades to the HVAC system, installing central air throughout the buildings, replacing the boiler and putting in a back-up heating system. It also includes updating the fire response systems, making sure the buildings are ADA accessible, upgrading security and adding parking at some of the buildings.
The board had narrowed down what was originally five options to two: structural and code upgrades at all four schools, or the upgrades and building additions onto Mile Creek.
Originally, the board had discussed phased renovations to each school, however, Malik estimated that if the town decided to complete the renovations at once, it would decrease the cost of both projects — from about $45.7 million to about $43.5 million for the basic project, and from $52.8 million to $49.8 million if additions to Mile Creek were factored in.
Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent Ian Neviaser said that only addressing the code upgrades and the structural fixes without any additions to school buildings would mean that the district might have to move the 5th grade to the middle school as a back-up plan if the enrollment continues to rise.
During the meeting, Kelly Enoch, principal at Mile Creek, said she was concerned about what would happen if the district needed to add another classroom for the students.
“We’ve added three classrooms at Mile Creek over the last three years, so programs that previously had spaces don’t, or are now sharing spaces, or are in much smaller spaces,” said Enoch.
Enoch said that Special Education teachers who had once shared classrooms were now in smaller spaces originally used for tutoring and that there was no space for 4th and 5th grade science. She said that adding another classroom would mean losing one of the spaces used for art, music or Gifted and Talented.
Board Chair Steve Wilson said he had received several emails from community members in support of added space at Mile Creek, and from the co-presidents of the Region 18 Teachers Association, who wrote in support of “selecting an option that will allow for adequate space to accommodate the continued growth of student population and providing funding for the updating of HVAC systems.”
Gaia Cornwall, a parent from Mile Creek, also spoke at the meeting about the need to address the space at the elementary school.
“We really don’t want to have larger class sizes. We don’t want to have music and art class carts that visit each class, we really think they need to have their own dedicated rooms as they do now.”
Board member Jenn Miller said she would go with the expansions at Mile Creek rather than potentially end up placing 5th graders at the middle school.
Several board members said they were surprised to hear about the lack of space at Mile Creek and that programs were losing their classroom space. Board Member Jason Kemp said he felt it was a good idea to look ahead at the future while the district was already planning renovations.
“My feeling is, go in with the top, we can always come down,” said Board Member Martha Shoemaker.
But Board Member Laura Dean-Frazier, who abstained from the vote, said she felt that she hadn’t heard from enough community members about the situation at Mile Creek in order to make a decision.
“I’m just not clear on Mile Creek and how much room we need there,” said Dean-Frazier. “I’m not feeling that I have enough information on that and what people want.”
Malik said he would meet with the Office of School Construction and Grants next week to get more information about what reimbursement the district can expect. He also said that a recent grant opportunity from the state providing $90 million for HVAC projects in local schools could help defray the costs.
But Neviaser said he was doubtful that the district would receive significant support through the grant program because the region’s net grand list per capita was so high.
“The chances of us getting significant monies for that are probably pretty slim,” said Neviaser.
Board members and Neviaser said that this was not a final decision about what the plan would be. The board will be holding a special meeting later on May 18 at 6:30 pm to discuss the outcome of the meeting with the state.
The district is aiming to submit a grant application to the state by June 30, with a possible referendum in November.