NAUGATUCK — When it comes down to it, the decision to move the Board of Education offices to Naugatuck High School as part of the high school renovation plans just makes cents — as in dollars and cents.
The high school, as it currently stands, is too big for its population, according to the state guidelines. The current footprint of NHS is about 304,000 square feet. State guidelines say it should be closer to 237,000 square feet based on Naugatuck’s population projections over the next eight years.
That means the state will only reimburse the town for 237,000-square-feet of renovation, although it might grant exceptions if the town can prove it would be cheaper to renovate the whole school rather than tear sections down just to reduce its footprint.
Town officials plan to apply for exemptions in a number of cases, but they are also trying to make the school smaller in several ways.
One is to abandon the basement weight and locker rooms, moving them upstairs and sealing that section off.
The other is to relocate the Board of Education central offices to the east wing of the high school in a space currently occupied by shop classes.
The town can be reimbursed 37.5 percent for the school board offices, less than the 75 percent rate the majority of the project will be reimbursed at, but a lot more than the zero it would otherwise receive.
Because of changes to programs over the years, the high school no longer needs the four or five shops classes where the new offices will be located, according to David King of Kaestle Boos Associates, the architectural firm that put together the proposed plan.
By cleaning out that whole space and starting over again, the school board will make it into a modern functioning office, King said.
The offices will have their own entrance and 14 parking spaces on the east side of the building.
In addition to regular administrative offices, the school board offices will have a meeting space that will double as a studio space for students to make videos as part of their video production class.
The school board will also have the ability to film their meetings in the room.
The new offices would also be more handicapped accessible than the current offices in the Tuttle building at the corner of Church Street and Meadow Street.
Besides helping the school receive maximum reimbursement from the state, moving the Board of Education offices would leave the Tuttle building open for other town uses.
The Long Term School Facilities Planning Committee, which came up with the high school renovation plans, is also tasked with deciding what to do with the Tuttle building.
“We’re also looking at the broader picture of trying to repurpose uses for schools which will ultimately be closed as schools,” said Warren “Pete” Hess, chair of the committee. “There may possibly be a better use for the Tuttle building in the future.”
So far, several ideas have been thrown around, including moving the Naugatuck Historical Society or the Parks and Recreation Department offices there, creating an adult education program, or an alternative school. But specific plan has been offered as of yet.
The historic Tuttle building, which was built by local businessman Bronson Tuttle in 1879, was deeded to the town in 1935 with restrictions that it must be used for educational purposes, according to an application to the National Register of Historic Places.
According to Mayor Robert Mezzo, the deed may not be as restrictive as it seems. He said it is fairly common in Connecticut that a building outlives its originally intended use, so the state works with municipalities to allow for other uses.
“They work with communities that allow for alternative uses that most closely match the original intention of the grantor,” Mezzo said.
For example, he said, the building may not be allowed to become private condominiums, but it could become municipal offices or a public museum.
No matter what happens to the building, it will need significant repairs.
“The Tuttle building, although it’s a terrific historical building, needs a lot of work,” said David Heller, chair of the Board of Education.
Chief among repairs is replacing the slate roof, estimated to cost over $800,000 to restore it to its original state, according to Mezzo.
That cost would also include some repairs to the exterior of the building including eroding window ledges and bricks, according to Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson.
However, Mezzo said, if the town decides to use a different type of roof, it could cost much less. Eventually, he said, the cost will depend on what the new use of the building will be and whether the town decides to restore it to historical accuracy or simply to be code compliant for whatever use it takes on.
Mezzo said he was not aware of any other large repairs that need to be done to the building.
“The maintenance cost is higher because of the unique qualities of that building,” Mezzo said.
Although the town, and ultimately, the taxpayers, would still have to pay for the upkeep of the Tuttle building, it would be one less burden on the Board of Education, Heller said.
“Either way, it’s all coming out of the same pocket in the end,” he said.
Moving the school board offices to the high school could improve communication between central administrators and high school administrators, according to Heller.
“We’re looking more and more at our high school as being a central location for the whole community,” Heller said.
Mezzo agreed, saying the two entities could work more closely together, especially on special education. He said the increased security at the high school could benefit the school board and the offices would be more accessible to the public.
“This will allow them to cooperate on site, which has certain educational benefits,” Mezzo said.
The new meeting space will be better suited to public meetings. At the Tuttle building, the quarters tend to get cramped very quickly if a lot of people show up at a meeting, Mezzo said.
Officials said many other school districts, including Region 14, Region 10, and Region 6 have Board of Education offices in their high school.
“It makes a lot of sense and it not only would create some good useable office space for the Board of Ed, but it would help the reimbursement rate on the project,” Tindall-Gibson said.