WINDHAM – The School Board plans to ask citizens next week whether they prefer expanding the middle school or building a new one.
A public hearing will review where officials stand on facilities planning. While this won’t be the final word, the board is eager to hear from residents because voters at Town Meeting overwhelmingly rejected spending for design fees for a new middle school.
The hearing is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the high school auditorium, 64 London Bridge Road.
A new middle school, to be built off London Bridge Road near the high school, has a projected cost of just under $30 million.
A phased expansion of the middle school would cost just under $10 million to start for a three-story addition that would include 14 classrooms to relieve crowding.
“There are a couple of paths we can take to solve our facility needs,” School Board chairman Bruce Anderson said. “We want the public to see where we are. We want to lay out the options and see what the public has to say.”
He said he doesn’t expect any decisions from the School Board next week. It’s likely when the board chooses a path the first step would be to again ask voters through Town Meeting for engineering and architectural fees.
A proposal to spend more than $700,000 for design fees for a new middle school was voted down in March, 2,056-866.
A survey conducted by school officials after the vote showed most respondents opposed the spending because they didn’t want their taxes to go up or didn’t believe the town needed a new school.
But their responses in the survey also showed nearly 60 percent found class sizes at the middle school “very concerning” and 65 percent were troubled by the lack of true science labs at the school.
So, the issue is complicated, both for residents and officials. There is community interest in improving facilities when the economy is weak and citizens are concerned over taxes.
The paths Anderson references, meanwhile, aren’t simple. Both could include future work at Golden Brook School. Anderson said the two paths ultimately could be financially similar, both in the $42 million to $47 million range.
“So, they are pretty close,” Anderson said.
There are other considerations. A new school next to the high school might present opportunities for students to use the high school theater next door for performances. It also would avoid construction disruptions at the existing school.
Before the board can move forward, there’s a need for the community to speak out and that’s why there is a hearing next week.
“Our board values input from the Windham community as we continue to struggle with our K-8 capacity issues,” board member Stephanie Wimmer said.
School district enrollment continues to grow amid facility space issues, Wimmer said. The district added 125 students this fall, she said.
The board has spent months reviewing the district’s direction on facilities in the aftermath of the March vote. Now it’s time to reach out to citizens.
“We are hoping to hear the community’s questions, comments and opinions on the two facilities options we previously reviewed in our School Board meetings,” board member Michael Joanis said.
“We asked for public input with our community survey in the spring and want to continue to take the pulse of the community as we make a decision about our next steps,” Wimmer said.
Any new facility, be it a school or an addition, is at least two years away, Anderson said.
“It would be miraculous if it could be open in the fall of 2014,” he said.