Committee recommends new school

PROSPECT — An ad-hoc committee formed to study options for the Talmadge Hill property has recommended a preschool-through-grade-five facility for the 47.2-acre site.

The committee was formed in December 2009 to begin a six-month study of possible uses for the property at 54 Talmadge Hill Road and other capital improvements.

The Region 16 Board of Education received the committee’s report Wednesday. The district oversees Beacon Falls and Prospect schools.

The committee recommended building a preschool-through-grade-five learning facility, and providing environmental educational opportunities on site such as trails. Its also recommended retaining the excess land for future use, and remediating Laurel Ledge School in Beacon Falls to improve its security and energy efficiency and to enclose its campus without losing its beauty.

This report comes after voters in both towns in October 2008 approved a proposal to spend $1.59 million to buy the land.

School officials have said a future use could be replacing the aging Algonquin School, which serves pre-kindergarten through third grade at 30 Coer Road.

Committee members, including school and town leaders and residents from both towns, explored 14 options and listed pros and cons for each. Options ranged from a kindergarten-through-grade-two building and a grades three-to-five building with environmental education, and a middle school building. They also included various combinations such as a bus site with a K-5 building and selling off excess lots.

“We really tried to explore every avenue we thought people may have wanted us to look at,” said Lisa DeGoes, school board chairwoman.

The committee believes the best way to use the site is to have all children in one location, and it will lead to cost savings, she said. It will be a large school, but an architectural firm can design it so it’s manageable, she said.

The next step will be to organize a building committee, DeGoes said.

In its recommendation, the committee also included additional considerations, such as purchasing adjacent lots at Laurel Ledge for improved access to property, a location for district offices and full-day kindergarten district wide.

Superintendent James C. Agostine said if the school board were to organize a building committee for the project in September 2010, the school wouldn’t open until September 2015.

The board told the voters that the district wouldn’t do the project in bad economic times, but it does want to get the ball rolling, he said. Agostine also believes the committee’s final recommendation is the best use.

“It offers us consolidation of programming in one location,” Agostine said. “There’s academic advantages to that.”

The recommendation is practical for economic reasons, too, he said. The district would maintain one facility, rather than two.

Although the committee explored ways to use the Algonquin and Community schools, it did not recommend a plan for those two properties. Agostine said that dialogue will be a long one, and both towns would have to decide on how the old buildings would be used.