PLAINVILLE - Board of Education Chairwoman Andrea Saunders said Wheeler Elementary School will eventually add 45 students but that this will not delay or impede the planned renovation project.
Saunders said Superintendent of Schools Maureen Brummett and Town Manager Robert E. Lee were recently informed by the Department of Administrative Services that the town needed to agree to add the 45 students. Only then could the $22.8 million “renovate as new” project qualify for the previously promised 65 percent state reimbursement.
“We were required to at least commit to attempt to add more students,” said Brummett. “It doesn’t need to happen until the project is 100 percent complete. We will then either establish a new committee or consider how to add new students through our facilities subcommittee.”
Saunders stated this was a decision that the state made in the “eleventh hour.”
“This is all because, in the ’90s, we added a gym and music room, so there is now more per child square footage than was allowed to qualify for reimbursement. We’re still fine where we are right now; the project is not held up,” said Saunders. “This stuff is pretty normal for the state,” she added.
As for where the 45 students could come from, Saunders said a committee would be formed to determine that.
“They could be brought in from other schools. Or they could be Open Choice students,” said Saunders. “Open Choice is a program that allows students from Hartford to be redistributed to suburban school systems. It has been around forever and we already have more than 100 Open Choice students in our school system.”
Saunders said the funding for the project is still expected to come at the end of June. The upgrades to the school at 15 Cleveland Memorial Drive should then take another three years to complete. Residents approved the project by a wide margin of 1,016 to 236 at a referendum held June 6.
Lee had informed residents prior to the vote that the project needed to be approved with referendum before June 30, or the town could have risked losing state reimbursement.
Saunders added that a letter had been sent to parents with children attending Wheeler that explained the situation. Furthermore, the letter explained how $700,000 had to have been cut from the project’s contingency fund. This, Lee had previously explained, was done to get the costs down to below $450 per square foot. However, it should not affect the proposed renovations.
“Some people were concerned that we would be getting less out of the actual project but that is not the case,” she said.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.