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.”