By LISA CAPOBIANCO
After several years of planning and discussion, the proposed “renovate as new” project at Wheeler School and site improvements at Plainville High School received the seal of approval from voters last week.
Last Tuesday, the capital improvement projects passed 1,016 to 236. Despite the rain, the all-day referendum held at the Plainville Firehouse had a total voter turnout of 10.8 percent, according to the Town Clerk’s office.
“I was very gratified to see the huge margin of support,” said Plainville Superintendent of Schools Dr. Maureen Brummett, thanking parents and the community at large. “People really see the value in our schools. They want our schools to be up-to-date and secure, and a good learning environment for our children that’s equivalent across the district.”
“There’s a great amount of people who understand and believe in the necessity for Wheeler School to be renovated as new,” said Wheeler School Principal Andrew Batchelder.
Built in the 1950s, Wheeler School has not undergone any additions since 1994. Under its “renovate-as-new” project plan, Wheeler will undergo extensive improvements in and outside the building, including upgrades of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems as well as code compliance updates. The project also includes a roof replacement, a relocation of the main office, and a walkway addition that will connect the administrative and kindergarten wings. Site improvements include new circulation routes and drop-off locations and repairs to the athletic field and playground.
“It’s going to improve the safety of our school first and foremost,” said Batchhelder.
“Wheeler School certainly is the last school that hasn’t been done in many years, and needs to be brought up to standard,” said Town Council Chairperson Kathy Pugliese, who also was thrilled to see the large turnout of voter support.
Board of Education Chairperson Andrea Saunders said the end results of the referendum happened because of the town effort involved with moving the school renovation projects forward. Now that it received support from voters before June 30, the town is expected to receive 51.15 percent back on the total cost of the project.
Leading up to the referendum, the Wheeler School Project Committee reached out to the community about the project by displaying signs and flyers throughout the town and speaking with voters. On referendum day, parents stood outside the firehouse and at some the schools with signs.
“Those parents really got the word out,” said Saunders. “The message was out there.”
“Our Wheeler School Project Committee was really the backbone of the operations,” said Batchelder.
For Wheeler School parent Rebecca Martinez who served on the committee, the referendum results showed Plainville’s community spirit.
Martinez said the committee enjoyed working hard together to gain momentum for the project.
“We contacted residents, posted on social media. We had a booth at Family Fest to promote the renovation. We asked some local businesses to let us place signs/flyers in their establishment or on their property,” said Martinez, who serves on the Wheeler School PTO. “Parents in other schools had signs in their yards.”
The project at the high school, which is not eligible for state reimbursement, includes the replacement of paving in all parking lots, roadways, and athletic complex walkways, with the exception of the bus loop and visitor parking area. The $1.75 million project also includes drainage improvements, and code compliance and accessibility updates.
Just a day before the referendum, several Plainville residents spoke out against the school renovation projects during a Town Council meeting.
“I still believe the scope and price of that renovation project is way out of line for the needs of that school,” said John Kisluk.
“It’s too much money you’re asking,” Joanne Edman told the Council.
Other residents said both projects should not have been included together in one referendum question.
“I’ve talked to quite a few people who are voting no,” Marilyn Shorettte told the Council. “They can’t understand why you voted to put two things on that referendum. That never should have happened.”
Pugliese said both projects appeared as one referendum question because the Council understood that they would be done at the same time.
“Sometimes when you split projects off like that, there’s a risk of one succeeding and one failing,” said Pugliese. “Both of them need to be done, and we need to get them done as soon as they can.”
Both capital improvement projects at Wheeler School and Plainville High School have a total estimated cost of $25.26 million with a net cost of $13.15 million. Town and school officials said this net cost can be absorbed in the town budget’s debt service line item, said town officials.
“Another strong selling point for this was that it’s not going to impact taxes negatively,” said Brummett. “I think people saw that.”
“I believe people knew that Wheeler needs this renovation, and that financially this is the best time,” added Martinez.
School officials said getting the referendum is just the first hurdle, as the district is now gathering all of the documents needed to secure state funding for the projects. Brummett said this information must be submitted to the state before June 30 in order to receive reimbursement.
“We’ll be sending tremendous amounts of information regarding the project off to the state prior to the June 30 deadline,” said Brummett.
Pugliese said the next goal is to make sure the town receives the state reimbursement that was designated for the Wheeler School project.
“We have been told that if we get this project passed before June 30, the funding is there for that kind of reimbursement,” said Pugliese. “That’s the next thing we’re watching for.”
For more information about the school renovation projects, visit https://www.wheelerschoolproject.org/.