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Manchester Public Schools In 'Rough Shape'

Needed repairs to all the town's public school buildings are estimated at $22.8 million.

The Board of Education heard a disturbing report on the state of the town's public schools Monday, as new Facility Manager Richard Ziegler told the school board that town schools were in urgent need of repairs and renovations that could total more than $20 million. 

"We're probably one of the oldest school districts in the state," Ziegler told the school board at its Monday meeting. "…Our schools are in rough shape." 

Ziegler went on to tell the school board about roofs that needed repairs, carpets and windows that have to be replaced, parking lots that should be redone, and the boiler and heating piping system at Nathan Hale Elementary School that is in danger of failing at any moment. 

Just to fix the priority items, Ziegler said, would cost the school district about $10 million, while all the maintenance needed to repair the town's 10 elementary schools, sixth grade academy, middle school, high school, and assorted administrative and special educational facilities would run the school district an estimated $22.8 million. 

"This is unreimbursed money," said Michael Crockett, a Republican member of the school board who said he didn't like the news but was not surprised to hear it, as long-need repairs and replacements for town schools have been delayed for years due to a lack of funds. "The state's not going to give us any money to fix this." 

Ziegler said the most pressing need at the moment was at Nathan Hale Elementary School on Spruce Street, which was built in 1921 and still contains many of its original systems. Ziegler said the boiler and heat piping systems could fail at any moment, and should that happen it would necessitate shutting the school. 

"We're at the end of its life. Somebody's got to decide to do something," Ziegler said of the heating and boiler systems at Nathan Hale. "When that steam pipe decides to go, it's over." 

Ziegler said a "like new" renovation of the school would cost about $20 million, but could take as long as five years to plan and implement, but that he doubted the systems at Nathan Hale would likely last that long. Even short-term fixes to Nathan Hale would cost the school system about $2.5 million, Ziegler said, and would only be delaying the inevitable, as the school has not undergone an extensive renovation since its construction 91 years ago. 

"It's very similar throughout the district," Ziegler said of the state of the town's public schools, which range in age from 100 to 36 years. 

Another priority repair that can't wait are the carpets at Verplanck Elementary School, Ziegler said, which have been declared a tripping hazard by the town's fire marshal. He said the school system planned to take money it had earmarked for repairs to Nathan Hale to replace the carpet at Verplanck this summer, but was still $35,000 short of the funds needed. 

School board members thanks Ziegler for his candid report, which they said helped shed light on the dire need to spend funds repairing, replacing, and maintaining the town's public schools. 

"If we don't improve that, it's just going to get worse," Leon said. "Our children, our teachers and our community shouldn't be in conditions like this." 

School board members hope to discuss the state of the town's public schools as part of a joint meeting with the Board of Directors in February. 

salk January 10, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Most definitely, schools draw residents and businesses. You would not let your homes deteriorate this badly, we should not let our schools suffer any more. A big decision has to be made about Nathan Hale School since that seems to be the most vulnerable of the schools. A heating system that is questionable every day. Manchester was known for its school system years ago, let us not be known for the shape of our schools. Are children deserve better! We have great kids, teachers, and administrators in our schools, lets come together and get their schools in the shape that they deserve.
Nancy Stuart January 10, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Why not kill two birds with one very expensive stone, and put a new school at the Parkade?
Greg January 10, 2012 at 08:14 PM
This is NOT a new situation. When I first started teaching in Manchester over 30 years ago, the facilities folks complained they were painting over rusted pipes rather than replacing them. I think this has been a common practice and it is time to face reality. Before the BOE can decide on long term realistic actions to the facilities it must first decide what facilities will be needed in the future then develop a long range plan and FOLLOW THROUGH. Do we need Nathan Hale or do we close it. A question that still had not been answered. With the population trends in town do we need all our schools or can we consolidate, that too still has not been answered. Given the economy it is a tough time to ask taxpayers for additional funds; however, that has been the excuse for many years. NO MORE EXCUSES time for action and this must be a joint BOE, BOD action. Both boards must be accountable for our schools. The reality is with one party control in Manchester, making a decision has never been easier. There will be no pointing at the other party as standing in the way. If we do not solve the school facility issue we will know who did not get the job done.
James T. January 27, 2012 at 05:42 AM
Yes we need to keep improving our schools and making necessary repairs and upgrades. Even if it means closing Nathan Hale after Highland Park is re-opened. But property taxes are already out of control, especially in this economy and homes aren't worth what they once were.
James Bond August 10, 2012 at 04:38 PM
J.T.,you are correct,many of the schools do need repairs and decisions about the schools and their usage need to be addressed.However, this is the Manchester BOE and they haven't had the backbone to make any choices along those lines for years. I don't belive they've grown a backbone lately so don't be suprised if they decide not to decide............again!!
Bob Hetzel September 04, 2012 at 04:43 PM
This article was posted eight months ago. The BOE has finally forced the issue, long overdue. However, until SMARTR reports, there is no clear path forward. One option might be to rescind the library referendum (which I see as a ten year solution* with a 20-year bond) and instead go ahead with a major school system upgrade. Isn't it time? *Because the technology that is in use, which is forcing the library expansion, is rapidly becoming obsolete: VCRs, CDs, DVDs and even desktop computers.

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