Alternative plan sought for new district office

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This design shows the current plans to renovate Algonquin School in Prospect into Region 16’s new district office. The cost of this plan has escalated so much so that the Board of Education gave the Building Committee in charge of the project permission to explore building a new office. –CONTRIBUTED

PROSPECT — The growing cost associated with turning Algonquin School in Prospect into Region 16’s district office has the building committee in charge of the project exploring alternative options for a new district office.

“What we have subsequently discovered is it’s going to cost us an astronomical amount of money to do it on the [Algonquin] property,” Board of Education member Robert Hiscox said during the board’s May 23 meeting.

The school board gave the building committee approval to look into building a new, stand-alone district office on school-owned property.

Renovating Algonquin for the new district office is one portion of a three-part building project that includes building a new elementary school at 75 New Haven Road in Prospect and renovations to Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls. In December, voters approved bonding roughly $47.5 million for the project at a referendum.

The district office part of the project calls for demolishing the two-story wing of Algonquin and renovating the remaining part of the school for the office. It was estimated to cost nearly $2.4 million prior to the vote. As the building committee has delved deeper into the project, that projected cost has risen to about $3.26 million.

“There were a lot of unknowns going into that that are being flushed out now,” building committee Chair Stan Pilat, who also sits on the Prospect Town Council, told the board.

The escalating expenses stem from costs for asbestos abatement, along with needed upgrades to the heating and cooling and electrical systems at the school, officials said.

Board member Nazih Noujaim added the school will also need major improvements, including replacing the roof, in the near future that will bring the costs up to more than $4 million.

Pilat said the other two parts of the project are proceeding fine, but it’s starting to look like renovating Algonquin for the district office is not the best idea to move forward with. He told the board the mounting costs made the building committee uncomfortable, and he was coming to the board for its direction.

The board unanimously gave its blessing to move ahead with looking at the cost of building a new district office, mostly likely on the new school site or the Algonquin property. The building committee will have to come back to the board with its findings.

“I think the building committee’s decision to reconsider where we are is a wise one for the taxpayers,” Hiscox said.

Building a new district office was originally in the building project’s plan. The plan was to liquidate Community and Algonquin schools once the new school in Prospect is built. However, a deed restriction requires the Algonquin school property to only be used for educational, recreational, or town purposes.

Once the deed restriction was discovered, school officials shifted the focus to renovating Algonquin for the new district office.

Altering the plans from what was presented before the referendum is an allowable move, interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James said. School officials just can’t go over the amount of money approved to be bonded, he said.

The $47.5 million approved for the project can be used any way between each of the three parts of the project. However, increasing costs to the district office part of the project would take away from the budgets for the new school and Laurel Ledge renovations.

“We want to work together with the architects to come up with a project that comes in on time and on or under budget,” James said.

The school board also approved the educational specifications for the district office with the caveat the location, site, and scope of the project may change. The specifications need to be approved so the board can submit the necessary paperwork to the state by June 30 for reimbursement.

The building committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday at Long River Middle School in Prospect at 7 p.m.

1 COMMENT

  1. Let’s just make sure this forty-seven MILLION dollars is spent on educating the young people of our community and not spent overzealously on office space for the BOE administration.

    To discover such a discrepancy after what had to be YEARS of planning and calculating before asking the people of Region 16 is beyond appalling and does not speak very highly of the skills of anyone involved in such a planning project. To suggest that funds may be taken from either of the SCHOOL parts of the project and be redirected to the district office part of the project may be legal (according to some) but it’s certainly not right.