LYME/OLD LYME — Mile Creek Elementary School is out of space.
That was the conclusion of four board of education members after touring the school on Wednesday.
“They are busting at the seams a little bit, and in two years they are going to have three levels of a couple of grades,” said Laura Dean-Frazier, one of the board members who toured the elementary school.
The board held a special meeting Wednesday to authorize Rusty Malik, principal at the architectural firm Q A + M, to submit a grant application to the state for a project that would add classroom space to Mile Creek and make upgrades and renovations within the building. As a priority project, the application needs to be submitted to the state by June 30.
The Board voted in favor of the motion, with one member, Chris Staab, voting against.
Dean-Frazier said that it was difficult to make decisions based on projections into the future. She said some community members felt that earlier changes in the district meant to address increased enrollment ended up not being necessary.
“I can understand why they are going to need more space and why they need more space now, but there’s that apprehension about what the future’s going to bring,” said Dean-Frazier.
Board member Jason Kemp said that while he, too, was unsure about basing decisions on projected enrollment, he hadn’t realized that the school was already nearly at capacity.
“Any slight increase or even continuing the current trend … even that’s already pretty tight,” said Kemp. “We can’t fit another class, it seems to me.”
Enrollment projections presented to the board in January predict that the number of elementary school students in the district will exceed the capacity of Mile Creek and Lyme Consolidated School in 2024-25. As of January, there were 511 students in grades K-5 — maximum capacity is 570 students.
Board member Suzanne Thompson said she didn’t like seeing children doing activities in the hallways or the Spanish teacher wheeling a cart from classroom to classroom rather than having a room of their own.
“It seems unfortunate in a community that values education so much that we’re putting kids in closets, or teachers in closets,” said Thompson. “I hate to spend money on extra things, but I’d rather have one room too many than one classroom too few.”
“Not just about comfort”
Expanding Mile Creek is one of several options that the Board was considering as part of a plan to renovate four of the district’s five schools: Mile Creek, Lyme Consolidated School, Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School and Center School.
Renovations at all four schools 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.
Malik said on Wednesday that, after a discussion with the state, he expected reimbursement for the project to total about $9.77 million, leaving the district with an overall cost of $47.77 million for all four schools. He said that it is possible that the district may be able to access some additional funds that the state has put aside to help districts cover the cost of HVAC, but that the state has not yet decided how it will allocate those funds.
Board members also discussed upgrades to the HVAC system, one of the largest expenses in the project. Thompson said she felt the community shouldn’t continue with old equipment and air conditioning units that were noisy.
“Air conditioning is not just about comfort,” said Thompson. “Our falls are getting hotter and longer around here.”
Board member Martha Shoemaker added that older air conditioning units would potentially be less effective and have lower efficiency, and that the district needed to consider the increasing cost of electricity. Thompson added that the district needed to think about what kind of buildings they would want to have if another virus like COVID appeared.
Staab, who voted against the recommendation, said he wanted to see estimates of what it would cost to make only the absolutely necessary repairs and upgrades within the schools.
“I think people are struggling with the fact, myself included, that we came into this with ‘Hey, let’s fix all the boilers’ – now we’re building additional classrooms,” said Staab.
School superintendent Ian Neviaser said he would also speak with the district’s bond agents to get an estimate of the cost of the bonding. He said that the final cost of the project could also change depending on the costs of materials and bonding.
Board members emphasized that they wanted to hear more input from the community before making the ultimate decision on any project.
The district is aiming to go to referendum in November.