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Courant: Rocky Hill OKs Plan For New Intermediate School

Tuesday November 25, 2014

Rocky Hill OKs Plan For New Intermediate School

by David Drury

November 25, 2014

©The Hartford Courant

ROCKY HILL — Town leaders have given their enthusiastic backing to a proposed grade 4 to 5 intermediate school that would be constructed along with a planned new elementary magnet aerospace academy.

The town council approved a series of resolutions at a special meeting Monday that set in motion what educators say would be an unprecedented, collaborative project between the town, the Capitol Region Education Council and the State of Connecticut.

The state would contribute up to 95 percent of the cost of the intermediate school and local residents would have access to the playing fields and facilities of both schools. In return, Rocky Hill would commit to a dramatic increase in Open Choice enrollment, a program established to reduce desegregation and racial isolation in Hartford by increasing minority enrollment in suburban districts.

“To me, this is truly a home run,” council member Bill MacDonald said. “Imagine someone is going to build your house and charge only 5 percent of the cost. How would you say no?”

“If we can pull this off … I think this is a pretty decent deal for Rocky Hill,” said Mayor Henry Vasel before the council gave the go-ahead for education officials to submit an application to the State Department of Education by Dec. 1 so the project could be considered for funding next year.

Town Manager Guy Scaife was authorized to request proposals for architectural and construction management services for the school, and the public buildings commission and government operations committee were jointly charged with overseeing the project.

Superintendent Mark Zito said current plans call for the intermediate school to occupy 14 acres. The CREC Academy of Aerospace & Engineering Elementary School, with a projected pre-K to grade 5 enrollment of 704 students, would encompass 17 acres.

An 86-acre Gardner Nurseries parcel, on the south side of Brook Street between Burris Logistics and Spring Brook Drive, is the site officials have identified as the location for the schools. The property is not far from the office building CREC now leases for the academy. The former Moser School site is too small for serious consideration, Zito said.

The two schools would be designed and built in concert. While they would occupy separate buildings, they would share driveways, play areas and some common elements. Completion is projected for fall 2017.

The state would pay 80 to 95 percent of the $31.8 million cost of the intermediate school, and Rocky Hill would reserve 15 slots at each grade level for Open Choice enrollments. The total enrollment would be 430 students.

An additional 60 Open Choice seats would be added to the two elementary schools, which would house grades K-3. By 2024-25, the Rocky Hill school system will have 195 Hartford students enrolled across all grade levels.

The plan enables West Hill and Stevens to remain neighborhood schools. Overcrowding at the two schools, which necessitated adding portable classrooms over the summer to accommodate all-day kindergarten, would be alleviated. Another major plus, Zito said, is that curriculum offerings and programming for the intermediate grades could be upgraded in science, math, engineering and technical education and world language instruction could be added.

Yet to be determined is whether town would retain ownership of the intermediate school building, and whether the state would provide funding up-front. That would leave voters responsible for approving only the town’s share of the project.

The funding issue is big. Several council members noted past failures the town has experienced in selling big-ticket school funding referendums to voters.

“This is one thing I don’t think I would have to sell. It will sell itself if we get 95 percent paid,” Vasel said.

By his math, the town would have to come up with just $1.5 million for a badly needed new school. The project would add two soccer and lacrosse fields, two ball fields, two gymnasiums and the potential for two storm shelters “which we are lacking in Rocky Hill.”

Link: http://www.courant.com/community/rocky-hill/hc-rocky-hill-crec-school-1126-20141125-story.html