NAUGATUCK — Years after officials approved a long-term plan to overhaul school and borough facilities, the borough is taking another look at the plan due to concerns at the district’s oldest school.
In 2013, the long term school building/facility planning committee unveiled a multi-year, multi-million proposal that was broken out into three phase. The first phase was the $81 million renovation project at Naugatuck High School, which has been completed.
The plan also includes building a school for grades five through eight at the current Cross Street Intermediate School site, renovating City Hill Middle School to new and converting it into an elementary school, tearing down the current Town Hall to make way for private development, and converting Hillside Intermediate School and Salem Elementary School into a municipal government complex to replace Town Hall.
Phase two of the plan currently calls for the town-wide middle school on Cross Street, while the final phase focused on the elementary schools.
However, concerns about Salem Elementary School have made it necessary for the committee to take another look at the plan, and the Board of Mayor and Burgesses revived the committee this month.
Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, who chaired the committee prior to being mayor and will chair the committee again, said the borough has been talking with the Board of Education about Salem and felt it was prudent to reconvene the committee.
Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said Salem is a beautiful school but has faced concerns that comes with buildings that are more than 120 years old.
Locke said the school has had a couple code violations over the past couple years, such as a need to redo the handrails for the main stairwell, and the school’s cafeteria is not on par with other schools in the district, Locke said. The school has addressed each of the code violations, she said.
Both Locke and Hess emphasized that there is no imminent plan for the school and nothing will happen quickly or without parents first being told.
“This is not an imminent issue. There is nothing urgent, but we need to have a plan in place because it takes quite a bit of time to plan for a new school or an addition to a school,” Hess said. “It is a time-consuming process.”
According to the school district, Salem was built in 1893 as a gift to the borough from John Howard Whittemore. It opened as a school the next year.
The school originally housed all Naugatuck students, with the high school on the third floor.
Salem became a kindergarten through eighth grade school with the construction of the then Naugatuck High School, now Hillside Intermediate School, in 1905. Salem became solely an elementary school in the 1950s.
In recent years, residents raised concerns about the school not be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is currently no elevator and the front entrance is only accessible by stairs.
In 2012, when Central Avenue School and Prospect Street School were closed, a couple was upset that their daughter wouldn’t be able to join her classmates moving to Salem since she was in a wheelchair.
In 2014, when the Board of Education was still meeting at the schools throughout the district, the meetings at Salem were moved due to concerns about accessibility.
Locke said Salem is not being singled out and the committee will ultimately look at all the elementary schools.
“As we look at the layout of the community we look at the elementary schools first,” Locke said.
Hess said the ultimate plan is to move Town Hall into Salem Elementary School, but said any discussion on costs or detailed plans is “years too early.”
Hess said the committee, which hasn’t met yet, has to consider a number of factors before making any decision on closing the school and moving Town Hall into the building, including determining whether that the school is actually outdated, moving ahead with downtown development plans, having someone who is interested in purchasing the current Town Hall, and having money to renovate Salem.
“All of those things would have to be evaluated and revised before we make a decision,” Hess said.