By LISA CAPOBIANCO
The referendum date for the proposed capital improvement projects at Wheeler School and Plainville High School is now official.
During a meeting last Monday, the Town Council voted unanimously to approve a referendum date of Tuesday, June 6 for the proposed “renovate as new” project at Wheeler and a paving replacement at the high school. On June 6, voters will have access to the polls from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Plainville Firehouse. Absentee ballots also will be available.
“It’s time for the people to vote on it,” said Town Councilor Deb Tompkins.
“This really fits into our overall plan as a town to upgrade our infrastructure as we go,” said Town Councilor Dan Carrier.
“It’s going to be a good investment for the town,” added Town Councilor Rosemary Morante.
The proposed “renovate as new” project at Wheeler, which has an estimated cost of $23.5 million, includes code upgrades to meet current local, state and federal codes, including the American with Disabilities Act and upgrades to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Other improvements include the addition of air conditioning to the entire building, a new secure front entrance, a relocation of the administrative office and nurse areas, and an addition of an enclosed walkway that connects the administrative wing too the kindergarten win. Site improvements include a new parking lot with additional parking and sub-surface drainage and ADA compliance on older playground equipment, as well as a new drop-off location.
“It’s an aging building. These things need to be taken care of in order to be more efficient—in order to make sure that the children and staff in that building are in the best environment possible,” said Town Council Chairperson Kathy Pugliese.
If voters approve the Wheeler School project at referendum before June 30, the town would be eligible for state reimbursement. Once approved, construction would begin in summer 2018, and would be completed in phases.
Noting how her children now attend Wheeler School, Plainville resident Sherri Labowski encouraged the town to take advantage of this state reimbursement.
“We really need to handle this now. After June 30, we don’t know what the state is doing with these reimbursement funds,” said Labowski, adding how shocked she was when she took a tour of Wheeler School.
“We’re not going to have a better time. We’re not going to get a better reimbursement rate,” added Board of Education member Becky Tyrrell.
Plainville resident John Kisluk spoke against the “renovate as new” project at Wheeler, asking the Council to reconsider sending the proposal to referendum.
“We’re spending too much on these schools,” said Kisluk.
Meanwhile, the improvement project at the high school includes the paving of parking lots, curbs and walkways, drain replacements and ADA accessible routes to the building entrance and athletic fields. The paving project, which has an estimated cost of $1.75 million, is not eligible for state reimbursement.
“The high school parking lot should have been done when the high school was done, but the building committee at that point in time was concerned they would not have the funds,” said Tyrrell. “It’s something we have to do.”
The total cost of both school renovation projects is $25.26 million, with a net cost of $13.15 million to Plainville. This net cost can be absorbed in the town budget’s debt service line item, said town officials.
The town’s debt service payment schedule is decreasing at such a rate that the new debt from the proposed school projects can be absorbed without increasing the current line item in the budget.
“There is no tax increase as a result of this school renovation project,” said Town Council Vice Chairperson Scott Saunders. “We are paying less on our long-term debt every year, and as that goes down, that allows us to take on projects, such as the Wheeler renovation.”
“That line item—our long-term debt service, will not be affected by this project because of the planning that has been put in place,” added Pugliese. “The timing is right.”
Town Manager Robert Lee said the Capital Projects Building Committee has worked for several years on proposals that would be in the best interest of the Plainville community long-term.
“The recommended project would address the needs and resulting cost impact to Plainville would be minimized due to state grants and the town’s favorable debt schedule,” said Lee.
Just one week before the Council approved the referendum date, the public had an opportunity to take a tour of Wheeler School, which was built in the 1950s and had not undergone any additions since 1994.
Led by Plainville Superintendent of Schools Dr. Maureen Brummett and Wheeler School Principal Andrew Batchhelder as well as consultants O&G Industries and Kaestle Boos, the tour covered the planned renovations for various areas of the school building, such as the cafeteria and kitchen, the boiler room, and the main office area. Throughout the tour, improving school safety was a common theme.
“We feel this school needs quite a bit of safety upgrades,” said Brummett, noting how certain areas of the school are not ADA compliant.
After the tour, several residents expressed their support for the projects during a public hearing, including Anne Grosse, who served on the planning committee during Wheeler School’s 50th anniversary celebration.
“The proposed Wheeler School renovation will meet the needs of students in the 21st century,” said Grosse.
For Grosse’s daughter Elizabeth, Wheeler School was a place of “fond memories” but also with “limitations,” such as the lack of air conditioning and the separation of classrooms.
“I entered a newly renovated Plainville High School in 2009. The other elementary schools had beautiful renovations, and I always wondered when it would be Wheeler’s turn,” said Grosse, expressing support for the renovation plans in the Wheeler project.
“We deserve to benefit from these state funds, which in turn will make Plainville even more appealing and increase our property values,” said Mark Chase, a teacher of Plainville High School.
For more detailed information about the school renovations, visit www.wheelerschoolproject.org.