Norwich seeks members for School Building Committee

Norwich — The City Council is looking for 11 residents, at least one with construction experience, to serve on the newly created School Building Committee to plan and design a proposed consolidation and renovation project for all city schools.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to create the 11-member building committee and named the holders of several city positions to serve as ex-officio members. Applications will be posted in the Forms Center on the city’s website, www.norwichct.org. Applicants will be interviewed by the council Appointments/Reappointments Committee, which will make recommendations to the City Council.

The council plans to appoint members to the committee at the March 16 council meeting.

Prior to the council vote, Council President Pro Tempore Mark Bettencourt and Board of Education member Patricia Staley, both members of the School Facilities Review Committee, provided the council with an overview of the plan approved by the committee last summer. The plan was a reworking of an earlier renovation/consolidation proposal ultimately rejected by the City Council.

Bettencourt said that while the earlier plan called for restructuring elementary schools by grade level, the new plan calls for traditional elementary schools, preschool through fifth grade. Bettencourt said that would allow the schools to become community and social gathering centers for families for several years as their children progress through the grades.

The committee proposed renovating as new the John B. Stanton, John Moriarty and Uncas elementary schools to house preschool through fifth grades, and building a fourth new elementary school, all to house preschool through fifth-grade students. The proposed new school building should be built to accommodate 300 to 600 students, depending on the sizes of the other schools, Staley said.

No specific site was identified for the new school, but Bettencourt said the committee is recommending either Greeneville, East Side or Laurel Hill neighborhoods be considered because no other schools are in those areas.

Teachers’ Memorial Middle School would be renovated as new for grades six through eight, while the recently renovated Kelly Middle School would remain as-is, also for grades six through eight.

The two current preschool centers, Bishop and Deborah Tenant-Zinewicz schools, would be closed and listed for sale. School administrative departments now housed at Bishop and the central offices in the former John Mason School at the Norwichtown Green would move to the Samuel Huntington School, which also would house the Norwich Transition Academy, a vocational program for special education students aged 18 to 21.

The Thomas Mahan Elementary School would be closed and listed for sale. The building, located off Route 82 in the city’s prime commercial district, is considered valuable for commercial development.

The 1895 former John Mason School and the Hickory Street School, which now houses the Norwich Transition Academy, would be listed for sale.

Wequonnoc School in Taftville would close as an elementary school and its arts and technology magnet program will move to the renovated Moriarty environmental magnet school. Wequonnoc, with some capital improvements, would house Adult Education.

The status of the Veterans’ Memorial Elementary School remains in question in the proposal, depending on enrollment projections for future needs.

Bettencourt and Staley expressed urgency for the project.

“Several buildings have reached or exceeded their design lifespan,” Staley said. “Several buildings are serving purposes they were not originally designed for. At least four of the buildings have accessibility issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

And except for the recently renovated Kelly school, all city school buildings need major capital improvements, she said.

Bettencourt said the renovation proposal was based on which school properties are most suitable for expansion, listing the Moriarty and Stanton schools as the “no-brainers” for expansion potential. The Wequonnoc School in Taftville is only “marginal” as an elementary school, Bettencourt said, with kindergarten segregated in an upper story that has direct access onto the hillside playground.

“This is all going to be the task of the building committee,” Bettencourt said of the final renovation plan.

The resolution later approved by the City Council listed the city positions to be appointed as ex-officio members — school superintendent, assistant superintendent, school business administrator, special education director, city comptroller, Norwich Public Utilities general manager, public works director, corporation counsel and the mayor — who will serve as nonvoting members.

Bettencourt said since the planning is likely to take a few years, it would be better not to name individual people currently holding those positions.

He said he would encourage school staff members to apply for voting positions on the committee, as well.

c.bessette@theday.com

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