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."
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