It's looking more and more as though not "if" the Manchester Board of Education will elect to close Nathan Hale Elementary School, but "when."
When the school board discussed the issue as part of its meeting Monday evening, almost all members of the board present said they favored closing the school or at least taking it "off-line" as early as next year until a plan could be developed to repair the aging heat piping and boiler systems at the elementary school on Spruce Street, while Interim Superintendent Richard Kisiel said he did not think the school's taxed systems would make it through the 2012-13 school year.
"If you would ask me tonight for my position on the school, I would say that unequivocally the school needs to be closed next year," Kisiel told the board.
At its last Board of Education meeting on Jan. 10, the school board heard a report from new Facilities Manager Richard Ziegler on the state of the town's public schools. Ziegler said Manchester's public schools were in "" and required about $22.8 million worth of repairs and maintenance, but singled out Nathan Hale in particular due to the aging heat piping and boiler systems at the school, which was built in 1921 and still contains many of its original systems. He said the piping or boilers could fail at any time, necessitating the closure of the school, and that just "spot" repairs alone would cost several million and take about eight months to complete; a "like-new" renovation of the school, Ziegler said, would likely cost an estiamted $20 million.
Monday, member after member of the school board fretted that there was no way they could find those funds in the current school budget, and discussed the next phase in shutting down the school. Kisiel has said that an additional $700,000 could be shaved from his for the 2012-13 school year by closing the school.
"Clearly the board has accepted the reality that, because of the condition of the building, some time next year this school cannot be in use," said Kelly Luxenberg, a Democratic member of the school board.
The board then differed on whether to close the school or take it "off-line," which board members said would indicate that the school would be reopened at some future point once the systems were fixed and renovations made.
"I'm not happy with the term 'off-line," because off-line means you are coming back online," said Michael Crockett, a Republican member of the board, who noted that because of the extensive, costly renovations Nathan Hale required, the school might never be reopened. "I don't want to mislead the public."
But board members said they were uncomfortable making a decision on the future of the school without first hearing from parents and residents in the area.
"I don't feel comfortable about having to come up with a long-term plan in two weeks," Luxenberg said.
Neal Leon, who was serving as chairmen of the meeting due to Chris Pattacini's absence, noted that there was a public comment session scheduled for Wednesday's budget workshop and encouraged anybody who had an opinion on Nathan Hale and its closing to attend the meeting and let the school board know their thoughts.
"We're using this as a guideline because we're not sure where we're going with it," Leon said.
Kisiel said he has already sent letters to families of students in Nathan Hale's district advising them of the possibility of the school's closing and urging them to attend Wednesday's meeting to comment.
"I want them to be aware of it and I invited them to come to the meeting if they had any concerns or comments," Kisiel said.
Wednesday's budget workshop will be held at 6 p.m. in Room 293 of the Freshmen Wing of Manchester High School, 134 East Middle Turnpike.
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