HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH — The Board of Education is debating how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades for the district’s four schools — a plan which could include closures of the elementary school campuses and moving students into new or renovated buildings on consolidated campuses.
The goal of the master plan, which has been under discussion for over two years, is to update the infrastructure of the school district’s four buildings, which have an average age of 52 years. All the buildings except Haddam-Killingworth Intermediate Middle School are over half a century old.
A facilities assessment completed by the firm Tecton in 2021 estimated that — with state reimbursement — the district would still need to spend between $115 million and $120 million to make the necessary fixes to equipment and code upgrades for ADA accessibility to the schools. At a joint meeting of the towns and the Board of Education on Thursday, Jeff Wyszynski, principal-in-charge at Tecton, described several additional proposals that would further renovate the buildings or rebuild them from the ground up.
While the least expensive option would involve simply fixing the mechanical issues and making code upgrades, several people noted this would not include making improvements to the quality of the educational spaces. Wyszynski also estimated that the cost would likely be much higher with inflation, given that they would be replacing the equipment over a period of 30 years.
Renovating or rebuilding all four of the buildings is estimated to cost between $204 million and $231 million with state reimbursement. Another option would be to close one of the elementary schools and transition to a three-school configuration — a cost of $206 million with state reimbursement.
A fourth would move Burr Elementary to the high school campus and Killingworth Elementary to the middle school campus – a cost of about $215 million. The last option would create a two-school configuration, with pre-K through sixth grade at one school and seventh through 12th grade at another school, for a total of $146 million with state reimbursement.
Wyszynski said that the idea of a “modern” classroom would emphasize flexibility and open space, with a lot of natural light. These spaces would have access to functioning science labs, STEM resources and music programs.
“The quality of their space absolutely impacts their performance,” Wyszynski said.
Board of Education Chair Suzanne Sack said despite having hosted three “community conversations,” she did not feel the board received much feedback from the community.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say we have by and large community input on this,” Sack said.
A survey sent to community members found that 81 percent of the approximately 300 people who responded believed Haddam-Killingworth High School was the top priority for renovations. The high school has been cited by the national accrediting body for high schools for having old mechanical systems, a lack of compliance with the ADA and nonfunctioning science classrooms.
Board members said they still don’t know how the community would react to the idea of moving the elementary schools onto the secondary school campuses.
Kate Anderson said she believed parents would be open to the idea, particularly since the towns had lost a lot of recreational opportunities.
“I have found that most people are totally open to the idea of combining at that age,” she said.
But others expressed doubt.
Killingworth Board of Finance member Annie Stirna said she wanted to ensure that closing and consolidating schools wouldn’t mean that the district would sacrifice programming or educational excellence. She questioned how consolidating the elementary schools would improve educational outcomes.
“From my experience just with [Killingworth Elementary School], people are very happy in Killingworth with KES as a school and the teachers and the setup,” Stirna said. She added that the district needs to invest in the teachers and programs.
“If we don’t invest … in our educators and our staff and our paras, it doesn’t matter what the schools look like,” she said.
But Sack said she didn’t believe combining elementary schools would improve or worsen educational outcomes, and that investing in one didn’t prevent investment in the other. She also pointed out that any operational savings — like eliminating duplicative positions in administration — could be reinvested into education or returned to taxpayers.
Board of Education member Lisa Connelly said the plans that involved renovations or rebuilding would be an improvement to the current educational system.
Haddam Selectwoman Kate Anderson said having two schools rather than four could save money, because the overall cost of running the buildings would lessen over time.
Sack noted that the district saved $1.2 million when it closed Haddam Elementary School, most of which came from staffing. She said the plan reducing four schools to two would likely be the greatest cost-saver in the long run.
Wyszynski underscored that the master plan would be rolling out over a series of decades, so the costs presented would be subject to inflation.
Sack said she believes the community will ultimately settle on a price they are comfortable with and seek the design that best fits within that price.
“When you take $50 [million] or $80 million and add it onto the tax rolls of these two communities, I think it’s going to be a big impact,” Sack said.
Town officials and the Board of Finance plan to have another meeting on Nov. 2 to further discuss the options.