Region 16 looking to iron out project details

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Officials are working from this preliminary drawing as they move forward with designing the proposed new elementary school on the Tallmadge Hill Road property in Prospect.

BEACON FALLS — As particulars on the Region 16 building project come slightly more into focus, questions over how the project fits into the state’s formula for reimbursement have arisen.

The Board of Education is in the planning stages of a three-part building project. The largest part of the project is the construction of a new pre-K through fifth grade school to be built at 75 New Haven Road, known as the Tallmadge Hill Road property, in Prospect. Community and Algonquin schools will be closed once the new school is opened and its students will attend the new school.

The design of the new school is beginning to take shape.

The school board got an update on the project Aug. 3 from representatives of Fletcher Thompson Architects of Shelton, who are working with the construction manager Turner Construction of Milford to design the project.
Vikas Nagardeolekar, a project manager with Fletcher Thompson, explained the design officials are moving forward with is a two-story, chevron-shaped structure with the older children’s classrooms on the second floor. The design features separate drop-off parking areas younger and older students, a media center near the main entrance, and allows for room to expand in the future if the need arises.

The design is very much a preliminary one and remains subject to change as the project moves ahead.

“It’s a very dynamic process right now,” Nagardeolekar told the board.

The project also calls for renovations to Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls.

The crux of the plans for the renovations, designs showed, is to add corridors to connect the school’s buildings, which are currently separated in a campus-style setting. Officials want to connect the buildings to ensure students can walk from one end of the school to the other without going outside.

Building a new district office is the final part of the project.

Currently, the district leases space for its central office. The district is looking to expand its offices a little more than 3,000 square feet to roughly 9,500 square feet. A few options are being explored for the district office—constructing a new building adjacent to the new school on the Tallmadge Hill Road property, retaining space at Algonquin school for offices or tearing down Algonquin school and building a new office on the property.

After Nagardeolekar discussed the design aspect of the projects, the conversation turned to the sizes of the new school and addition to Laurel Ledge and how they factor into state reimbursement.

The district is slated to be reimbursed about 70 percent of eligible costs of the project from the state. The state uses a formula based on school population to determine up to what size a project can be to receive the reimbursement rate on the entire project.

According to officials, the state formula says the new school, which is projected to have an enrollment of about 643 students, should be about 80,100 square feet. The current design puts the new school at roughly 86,800 square feet or about 6,700 square feet over the state’s formula projection.

Anything over the state formula isn’t eligible for reimbursement meaning the district would cover the full cost of any overage.

Superintendent of Schools James Agostine said the formula, which the state uses to control its costs, is decades old and outdated, and doesn’t take into consideration all education components necessary today.

Agostine said officials well do their best to reduce the size of the new school. However, he added, “There comes a point where it’s not just feasible.”

The reimbursement issue concerning the Laurel Ledge renovations is a considerably more complex one.

The state formula says Laurel Ledge should be about 56,150 square feet. Currently, the school is roughly 63,200 square feet and the renovation designs will add another 6,300 square feet to the school. The current design puts the school at about 13,000 square feet over what the state’s reimbursement formula calls for.

Exactly how this affects the reimbursement for the district was unclear. Officials said the district could receive the full reimbursement amount for any improvements that bring a part of the building up to code or is used for educational programming. But, precisely what qualifies under the project and the level of renovations needed to the school wasn’t known yet.

Agostine said the district has been deferring maintenance to Laurel Ledge and there’s going to be more renovations needed than adding corridors. He said the district still needs to flesh out the details concerning the renovations.

Agostine added that the project is an opportunity to fix all that’s wrong with the school, one that might not come around again for decades.

“I say strike while the iron’s hot,” he told the board.

Officials are expected to delve into the matter over the coming weeks and provide some answers.

Priscilla Cretella, vice chair of the board, said reimbursement levels will be an important factor when the board decides on the project

“That’s definitely going to factor on whether or not those buildings are going to be connected,” Cretella said.

School officials are hoping to have concrete designs and cost figures by October in anticipation of holding a referendum on the project in December. Agostine said once the plans are ironed out the district will host public meetings on the project.