Region 16 building project on schedule, includes switch to full-day K

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PROSPECT — The size, classrooms and programs have all started to take shape for a new preschool-through-grade-5 school building planned for property on Talmadge Hill Road.

All those components and more have made it into the educational specifications for an elementary facility at 54 Talmadge Hill Road that would replace Algonquin and Community schools in Region 16.

The Region 16 Board of Education recently approved the specs, which were developed by Superintendent James Agostine assisted by the two elementary building principals and former Superintendent of Wolcott Public Schools Thomas Jokubaitis of Prospect.

Now the district is working with Fletcher Thompson Architects of Shelton, and construction manager Turner Construction of Milford, on a conceptual design to meet the approved education specs.

The educational specifications, which are laid out in 35 pages, detail various components including enrollment projections, core academic subjects, the number of classrooms, technology infrastructure and community programs.

Drafting began in late fall, with a nearly-completed document in May, Agostine said. It then had to be revised to include new data from a second demographic study, he said.

The school board approved the specifications during a special meeting June 29.

The education specs have the center of discussions over the past months at board meeting with the main topic being the change to full-day kindergarten.

The new school will need six classrooms for full-day kindergarten compared to four classrooms for half-day kindergarten. More classrooms would have to be included in the renovation of Laurel Ledge to accommodate the change as well.

The switch also means more teachers.

The district would need six or seven more teachers to cover full-day kindergarten classes, with the new teachers expected to be phased in over time. Using rough numbers, the additional teachers are expected cost about $360,000.

The board has debated full-day kindergarten at multiple past meetings. Some board members felt the change was unnecessary and could jeopardize some state reimbursement. Others contended full-day kindergarten is best for students, and the state might mandate it in the near future leaving the district with a new building that would need to be renovated again for full-day kindergarten.

Ultimately, the board approved the education specifications 5-3, with Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella, and board members David Wartko, and William Fredericks voting against it, according to the meeting minutes. The education specs were approved with the understanding that full-day kindergarten could be eliminated in future planning, the minutes stated.

According to the educational specs, the new elementary school will need to accommodate at least 643 students over the next eight to 10 years.

Enrollment is projected to be 691 in 2011 and 528 by 2021. It suggests planning for at least 643 to accommodate high enrollments likely to happen in the future, the document reads.

The capacity at Community School, which serves grades 4-5, is 298 students, according to the education specs. At Algonquin, which serves pre-K-grade 3, it’s 460 students.

According to the educational specs, the building would need 32 classrooms for all grades, with the following breakdown — six for all-day kindergarten, two for preschool, and about four to five for each of the other grades.

Total square footage for the new school would be 86,797, the document states. To receive the full state reimbursement the district is eligible for, it needs to reduce that to 80,099.

Sometime in September, the district hopes to have a design to share with the public, Agostine said. He anticipates holding informational meetings in both towns.

There are two components involved, he said. The first is the conceptual design to referendum phase; if approved at referendum, the final design construction phase would begin, Agostine said.

Three building projects including the new school would be brought to referendum, Agostine said. That would possibly be in late fall.

Fletcher and Turner were hired to develop conceptual designs for safety, security and energy efficiency improvements at Laurel Ledge School in Beacon Falls and a new district office.

Agostine said he is now detailing educational specifications for Laurel Ledge, which is an open-style campus. It’s an attractive setting but ways are being looked at to connect the building so children don’t have to go outside to reach the nurse’s office or cafeteria, he said.

A study has been completed on square footage needs for a new district office, Agostine said. The district also has to look at the best option, either to build a new one on the Talmadge Hill Road land, or reclaim space either at Algonquin or Community, he said.