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Groton School Board To Address Facilities Improvements

Estimated costs to correct deficiencies in six schools range from $79 million to $108 million.

The Groton Board of Education was presented with new figures for school facility improvements Monday night in what will undoubtedly be a lengthy reevaluation process in efforts to meet state standards.

The board was dealt a twin blow earlier this year, with a rejection of Phase II reorganization and reconstruction plan by voters in May followed by a rejection of a budget increase by the Representative Town Meeting.

Formal discussion on school closures and busing will take place in September, Superintendent Paul Kadri said.

“The key discussion tonight was an attempt to begin that discussion,” he said.

Wesley Greenleaf, Director of Buildings & Grounds, presented the board with an outline of immediate improvements, and subsequent cost estimates, at six of Groton’s most in-need schools: West Side Middle School, Cutler Middle School, Fitch Middle School, SB Butler Elementary School, Claude Chester Elementary School, and Pleasant Valley Elementary School.

"Because we lost the referendum, those are the worst schools and those are going to be addressed," said Greenleaf. "Now, the question is, ‘where do we go from here?’ "

Greenleaf compiled estimates on improvements for two major architecture firms: JCJ, a firm hired by the district in 2003 to oversee implementation on Blue Ribbon Committee recommendations, and McKissick Architects, the firm used to provide insight over Phase II.

The overarching problems addressed in Greenleaf’s presentation include deficiencies related to handicap accessibility, asbestos, and fire code requirements. Estimated costs to correct those deficiencies in the six outlined school run from $79 million to $108 million.

“Those are estimates,” Greenleaf explained. “They don’t include architectural fees or construction management.”

The director cited SB Butler as an example of how long-term neglect is adding up to repeated repair costs.

“We had a boiler crack last year,” he explained. “We just did a repair in one section, put it together, hydro-tested it last Friday, and another section broke.”

SB Butler’s boilers, made of cast-iron, are rusting from the inside out. “It’s an inefficient system,” Greenleaf said. “The right thing to do is to rip the entire system out and replace it with a hot water heating system—a more modern system [that] uses copper instead of steel pipe.”

Replacing an entire heating system will run the district around $900,000. “To change just the boiler, you’re looking at half a million dollars,” Greenleaf explained. “[But] now you’ve got an old building, that’s got all sorts of problems—is it worth it to invest that money?”

Still, funding immediate capital improvements pays off. West Side Middle School, built in 1956, spent nearly $55,000 on heat last year. It houses a steam heating system like that at SB Butler. Cutler Middle School, which was built four years later and is roughly the same size in acreage and student population, houses a hot water heating system. Last year, it spent $32,000 on the same line item.

"There is money being thrown away," Greenleaf said.

“There [are] things you can do, but to absolutely make it work and not disrupt school is impossible,” Greenleaf warned. “You’d have to disrupt school in some way.”

The improvements outlined by Greenleaf will benefit 42 percent of Groton’s projected student body next year—nearly 2,200 children.

“So, the question is, ‘where’s the best investment?’” Greenleaf asked. “We spent four years studying it and [when] the Blue Ribbon Task Force came out with the final report the conclusion was we had to do some radical work. We’ve been able to keep these things going without huge, major reinvestments with the exception of a few things…we did it where we thought it made sense.” 

Mary Lou Peck July 15, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Beth, I think you misunderstood my comment. I specifically place the responsibility on the decision makers and the department head, Wes Greenleaf, I think. I know it is not the workers but the higher ups who determine the course of action, or in this case non-action. Lets clean house at the top and pressure the Town COuncil to do the same. Looking forward to November.
B-Mom July 15, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Mary Lou, Then I extend my apologies. I agree it is time to clean house at the top. I also believe there should be a hiring freeze at Central Office. But I am sure there will be "justifications" as to why some of these new positions are created. I am looking forward to November also!
Mary Lou Peck July 15, 2011 at 10:53 PM
Beth, Aopolgy accepted. Now worries....
rugger23 July 16, 2011 at 11:11 AM
I'm a big believer in change but it's a system, not a cataclysmic one time vote that will actually have a positive result for Groton. Been pretty close to Phase II and in the end it was a great plan for the melding of all the non-funded issues of racial inequality, lack of funds put into infrastructure and a less aggressive BOE over 30+ years in $$ toward infrasructure spend. Logical education decisions will now hurt... Now we have a Supt. who who actually is a very talented one in the situation we find ourselves. Remember, Phase II was NOT his, it was a town council and voters of Groton initiative and he embraced what is being discussed here which is change. He's a fiery guy and lsten to what he says, I believe he is actually advocating the same thing you are. This BOE is also one of the best @ as they actually are educators and Phase II was the change supposedly the voters asked for in Groton.They saw the Phase II albatross just like everyone else, yet, it was their professional responsibility to support it. Therefore, we are back in the same position w/ a declining school population, a racial redistricting that is now mandated, three middle schools which we can't afford and a need to solve the problem. Greenleaf is not the problem nor his staff. As Michael Kane said at the BOE meeting to discuss what to do post Phase II, "where were all of you when we needed you". We need the voters to be involved in the process change.,, not "just" in the voters booth.
mystmom July 19, 2011 at 02:18 AM
It's very easy to deride the BOE, Superintendent, maintenance dept, and central office staff in this type of forum. The BOE was ready and willing to listen to the public at the June meeting at Fitch, but how many people actually made constructive suggestions as to how to address what Phase II would have? I didn't hear any... To all those naysayers out there: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem!

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