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SMARTR Committee Proposes Closing Two Elementary Schools, Renovation and Expansion of Two More

Elementary school class sizes under the new proposal would average between 17 to 22 students.

An artist rendering of the proposed fifth/sixth grade academy that would combine Bennet Academy and the Cheney Building. Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Town of Manchester
An artist rendering of the proposed fifth/sixth grade academy that would combine Bennet Academy and the Cheney Building. Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Town of Manchester
A special committee charged with developing a plan for the future of Manchester's public schools presented its proposal to town leaders Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, which included recommendations that the town establish a joint fifth/sixth grade academy at the site of the current Elisabeth M. Bennet Academy, as well as expand and renovate two existing elementary schools "like new" while closing two others by the year 2020. In total, the projects would cost an estimated $100 million, with Manchester taxpayers responsible for about $40 million of those costs after state reimbursements. 

These projects would begin in the spring of 2014, when the Manchester Board of Directors are expected to send a $17.4 million dollar proposal to combine the existing sixth-grade Bennet Academy with the neighboring Cheney Building to form a fifth and sixth grade academy for the town's public school students. The project is expected to cost Manchester taxpayers about $7 million and is anticipated to appear on a referendum in April of 2014. If approved, the new fifth/sixth grade academy is anticipated to be completed by the summer of 2016. 

From there, members of the School Modernization and Reinvestment Team Revisited (SMARTR) committee presented a plan that would see the town reduce its public elementary schools from nine to seven between 2016 and 2020, beginning with a "like new" expansion and rebuild of Roberston Elementary School, followed by a similar expansion to either Washington or Verplanck elementary schools (depending on the school board's preference). 

The Board of Education, according to SMARTR, could then decide to close two "surplus" elementary schools in town, with Waddell and whichever of either Washington or Verplanck did not receive the upgrades being the most likely targets. 

These expansions would cost an estimated $90 million to $100 million, with the cost to Manchester taxpayers an estimated $40 million, with all the renovations and closures completed by 2020. Elementary school class sizes once the entire plan was implemented would be between 17 to 22 students per class, which SMARTR committee members noted would allow the town to maximize state reimbursement formulas and keep the cost to taxpayers the lowest. 

"Understand there's a whole plan," said SMARTR Committee member Brian Murphy, who presented part of the proposal to the Manchester Board of Education and Directors Tuesday night. "It's just not one isolated project."

Voters would have to approve each of the projects in separate referendums, numerous town officials noted during the meeting, with many officials noting that if residents did not support the full project it would still leave many of the town's schools needing costly repairs and further deteriorating. 

"We have to look to the future. I think both boards need to get behind this plan," said Mayor Leo V. Diana. "The alternative is very bad, and it's just a lose/lose for Manchester. Go take a look at Nathan Hale, and that's what you're going to wind up with."

What do you think about this proposal? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. 
Autumn Struk December 04, 2013 at 07:22 AM
I truly believe that discussion around other schools should happen and not just around Waddell definitely closing. Discussion concerning the well being of students also needs to happen. Waddell is not only in better shape than the other "renovated" schools mentioned, it's also the only school with high CMT scores (highest for science!) and the only school that is racially balanced in Manchester. Waddell is a neighborhood school with much PRIDE in its community. Waddell has very high attendance and participation in school functions and the Students, Teachers and Parents of Waddell are very much involved with the school and community happenings. Local businesses support Waddell as we are a key location to help bring them business! Also, the Broad St renovation is underway and Waddell (although the renovations stop before Waddell) is a central location for beautifying Manchester! Needless to say, the roof that was put on this past Summer 2013 was "left" off of discussion, other new renovations and a brick wall that will need replacing prior to the closings have or will be done shortly. Money seemed to be the only substantial factor in all discussion (racial balance although stated as a factor did not seem to be as important as the money to the speakers) last night and Waddell has just as much room as Robertson to expand and NOT as many LIKE NEW renovations which would be a money saver. Im interested to see what comes out of these public forums!
Joel Mrosek December 04, 2013 at 07:25 AM
Was there an explanation of how closing two schools, while expanding others, helps the students? Can anyone clarify what the Mayor meant by his comments about Nathan Hale?
Jim Quaglia December 04, 2013 at 07:49 AM
Good point Joel! Mayor Diana should explain exactly what he meant by his comments. With both boards (and the Town) having much to do about how are buildings are maintained etc., it would be very interesting to hear what he meant by taking a look at Nathan Hale and that is what we can expect to wind up with! Otherwise it is the usual rhetoric that politicians expect the general public to follow because they said it is so.
Autumn Struk December 04, 2013 at 08:51 AM
Those are great points! Honestly, I did not hear any mention of how any of this would benefit the students. There was just talk about education being competitive and Manchester would get more money if schools were bigger. Not much at all about how these changes benefit the children. I am not sure exactly what context the Mayor was stating about Nathan Hale, however Nathan Hale is closed now and nothing is being done with that building...it's a dark lonely place now.
Greg December 04, 2013 at 10:29 AM
Thank you to all who keep asking "how will this benefit the students". That should be at the start of the conversation NOT the end. Also missing is much input from our soon to be new superintendent who has to live through any of the proposed changes/decisions. He should be in front of this conversation not just involved after the hard work is accomplished. A few items I think tax payers must demand, before anything moves forward--what schools will be closed, what educational improvements will the BOE be able to document as a result of these changes and what other renovations, updates building projects will be in the future after these proposed actions are completed. In other words what is the long rang plan for Manchester educational facilities? With all the reversals, last minute changes and lack of agreement these groups have demonstrated in the past few years I need to have my confidence in their ability to creat a accurate, complete, realistic plan reestablished.
Scott Girouard December 04, 2013 at 11:34 AM
Is there a place where this SMARTR (nice acronym by the way) proposal is fully presented? From a basic perspective, this plan doesn't make sense other than from the goal of getting a higher amount of state and/or federal funds flowing into the town. It seems that the agenda was to develop a plan that maximized subsidies/assistance with no regard to the actual children involved. My son attends Waddell and has gone to the summer camp program at Robertson. There is ZERO reason, from a non-monetary perspective, to close Waddell while keeping Robertson open. I can't see how Waddell's internal mechanical systems, which is the only components I can't see, could be that worse off than Robertson, that would result in improving Waddell being a much more substantial improvement cost. This plan makes no sense for accomplishing the goals the committee is stating. I can't see how this will improve education within the town. I don't agree with a 5th and 6th grade academy. Do we really want to filter students through 4 schools in order to get their diploma versus 3? I do have some questions though. Is this a way the town is trying to take the land Waddell sits on? What would the state and federal funding be if they kept the schools the way they are and improved them in that way instead of playing a shell game? (close 2 to open 1 and improve 2 others) What are the other proposals available? Or are we presented with just one option?
Ron Curran December 04, 2013 at 12:24 PM
I was in attendance at that meeting and the biggest thing that struck me was the demographic definition that was used to describe the Robertson/Waddell district. The Robertson area was described as a "Transient population" of mostly renters while Waddell was defined as "long term residents" and a "higher rate of homeowners". (The boards words not mine). I have a big problem with closing the school that serves the property owners, long term residents, and the population with the higher tax burden in order to build a like new school across an imaginary line for residents that will probably not live there next year or even worse people that don't even live there yet. Also with all the renovation being done on Broad St the area in which Waddell sits at the doorway to a major incline for economic development. The Robertson area however is not. It was also pointed out that Waddell was not one of the schools even toured to determine if it was a viable candidate for expansion. Why not? If it is on the chopping block why wouldn't you even go there to actually see why it should be closed? We are also being given numbers for the projects cost that don't reflect a equal comparison when you look at the break down. Comparing a Cadillac to a Kia and saying we saved so much money is just plain deceitful. Telling us $120M for all like new schools over the next 20 years and then comparing that to a few like new schools, close 2, and Band-Aids for the rest for $40M is not a comparison. This project is being sold as a choice, I'm no expert but but I'm not seeing what else was being offered...
Michael Farina December 04, 2013 at 02:35 PM
How is it a "whole" plan if we don't know definitively exactly which elementary schools will be closed and which will be expanded? Without that information, we are missing a huge part of the "whole" picture, and without that information, I will not be supporting this plan at referendum.
Scott Gir December 04, 2013 at 02:43 PM
it is also to vague. I don't see where a list was done of each school's needs being addressed and the costs associated with it. it would be nice to know what each school truly needs as well as what it would cost. it seems like Waddell was predetermined to be closed and they are looking to create a reason.
Greg December 04, 2013 at 02:52 PM
I am happy to see folks are talking about a need for more specific details and input into such a huge project that will impact so many Manchester citizens from K-12 and all tax payers. The time for the BOE to just release a proposal with NO accountability built into it should be OVER. You build schools and staff schools to ensure the highest level of teaching and learning and that is what the BOE seems to leave out of any facility discussion. We have had years of good intentions with little or no tangible improvement in student outcomes. It is time to demand a clear and concise explanation of how each proposal will work toward improved student outcomes. If the BOE decides to close Waddell how will that improve student outcomes across the district? We need to be concerned about racial balance however, that has been an issue for longer than I can remember. We need to think about State Reimbursement but that too should not be the single most important determining factor. Lets keep the focus on student outcomes and demand the same from our elected officials. Boy I wish all this was introduced about two months before the last election and our next superintendent was guaranteed the job starting next July, my guess the voter outcomes and questions to the superintendent candidate might have been different.
Dean December 04, 2013 at 07:37 PM
I think our local leaders are trying to hide the tough decision. They moved the referendum to an obscure day instead of putting it on an election day ballot. I am voting no for this until they are able to say what schools will be closed. I am already not big on my children leaving the elementary school they are in a year early. If the president and the governor have taught us anything, its that we need to see all of the details of the laws before we allow them to pass them.
Manchester Review Blog, Host: Jack Peak December 09, 2013 at 10:32 AM
Scott, The SMARTR Committee power point presentation can be accessed via the Town web site- it's highlighted in the center of the front home page. All the meeting minutes of the Committee meetings can be viewed if you click on "Boards and Commissions" on the left side of the homepage.

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