Groton will need about $1.3 million to buy portable classrooms and complete work inside West Side and Cutler Middle schools, the school facilities director told the Board of Education and Town Council this week.
Wes Greenleaf, director of buildings and grounds for Groton Public Schools, said the department needs two portables at Cutler and one portable at West Side to accommodate additional students in the schools.
The school board voted in December to consolidate from three middle schools to two and Redistricting is still being completed, but the plan is to have six teams of students, or 510 students each, at West Side and Cutler.
Groton is eligible for reimbursement of 57.5 percent for new portable classrooms, but the money would probably not arrive until after the classrooms are built, Greenleaf said. Groton would pay a net cost of about $700,000 after reimbursement, he said.
Town Councilor Bruce Flax suggested the town look into leasing portables instead to save money, and Greenleaf said he would review that option. But if portables are leased, the town is not eligible for grant reimbursement from the state, he said.
The request for the money would go to the Town Council first, then to Representative Town Meeting for approval. Groton cannot apply for state reimbursement until the money is approved.
“We don’t want to go out and hire people when we don’t know for sure the money’s there,” Town Manager Mark Oefinger told the school board and council. “It’s just getting very tight.”
Town officials also asked about ways to speed up the permitting process.
“This is such an important project for our children and the town, all of us cannot drop the ball,” Town Mayor Heather Bond Somers said, adding, “…I think you have all hands on deck here to make sure this happens.”
Inside the two schools, Greenleaf said crews will take down walls and put up others to create more classroom space. He estimated work would start in four to five weeks.
Each school would have 24 classrooms in the main building to house teams of students, or four classrooms for each team. Other teachers might have to share space, Superintendent Paul Kadri said.
“It could be that a teacher gets an office, a small office, versus a classroom and then they share whatever classroom is there," Kadri said.
At Cutler, the plan is to convert the classroom next to the office into a guidance suite. The school would also take out the closet in the chorus room to add space. Workers would then convert the showers that are not being used, into storage space for musical instruments, Kadri said.
At West Side, the plan is to convert the school-based health center into the guidance area, then move the health center into a tighter space near the cafeteria.
The department also plans to use the consumer science area for special education, which would move that class from a space of about 1,400 square feet into a space of about 1,100 square feet, Greenleaf said.
In addition, the schools plan to create two additional computer labs at both middle schools, Kadri said. The school department needs to add 18 parking spaces at Cutler, and may have town public works employees help.
Students and teachers should be told by the end of February what school they’ll be attending or assigned to. Kadri said he is in discussions with the Groton Education Association about how to handle teacher assignments.
He said he wants to preserve and yet blend the school cultures, and is also considering factors like experience working with military children, as Fitch Middle School enrolled the bulk of middle school students with parents on active duty.
“The commitment I have to all the teachers is no winners and losers in this,” Kadri said. “No one likes change. No one likes movement. There’s going to be some, but we want it to be as respectful as possible.”
Eventually, Greenleaf said the plan is to renovate and expand both middle schools, then sell the portables or move them to other Groton schools.
Lea Kennedy told the school board Groton should working on that plan now, so it can go to referendum in November, during the presidential election.
“I think people are feeling that there’s no sense of direction of where we’re going. It’s just (budget) cuts to get through,” Kennedy said.
She said Groton needs a vision, so while it's making cuts, it's also “making serious headway.”