Dueling Warrant Articles for a New School
by Lynne Ober
Litchfield voters will have a choice at the polls as to which school to approve as a result of a resident petitioned warrant article for a new school that is different from the one presented by the School Board.
The School Board has submitted a warrant article for a bond in the amount of $19,836,269 for the construction, furnishing and original equipping of a new elementary school with core capacity of 1,000 students and an expected opening day capacity of 772 students.
The school’s core spaces such as cafeteria, kitchen, gym, and media center would be built to house 1,000 which is the maximum expected number of elementary students when Litchfield reaches its built-out state. School Board Chairman Cindy Couture explained that the design of the school would allow extra classroom space to be added on the classroom wing when that capacity was needed.
The planned school is a two story school built on the land adjacent to Litchfield Middle School. The architect from Harriman Associates, Dan Cecil, explained that the school would face south so that it would receive large amounts of good light. "Traffic has been configured so that buses and cars have separate drop off areas and no child will have to cross traffic."
The Budget Committee did not recommend this warrant article as presented by the School Board.
When the new school opens Griffin Memorial School would be permanently closed. As a result, Litchfield School Board has submitted a warrant article asking voters to give them permission to "sell or convey the Griffin Memorial School and its associated land and building on such terms and conditions as the School Board determines are in the best interest of the District, provided that before any sale or conveyance the School District must first hold a public hearing on the proposed sale or conveyance. This article will remain in effect until such time as the property is sold or conveyed."
"There’s no question that Litchfield needs a new school," said Bill Spencer who was one of the residents who petitioned for a different new school. "The question is whether we need to build such a large, expensive school or a smaller school and continue to use Griffin." Spencer cited a concern about the growing tax rate, but said he did support a new school – just a smaller one.
The petitioned warrant article is for fifteen million dollars, of which "fourteen million, seven hundred sixty thousand dollars will be for the construction, furnishing and original equipping of a new preschool through grade three (3) elementary school, and two hundred forty thousand dollars will be for alterations and upgrades to Griffin Memorial School, which will house grades four (4) and five (5), and to authorize the issuance of not more than fifteen million dollars of bonds or notes. If Warrant Article 1 [School Board’s submitted warrant for a new school] shall pass, then this Warrant Article shall be deemed void and of not further effect."
The petitioned warrant article was recommended by the Budget Committee.
Laurie Ortolano spoke to the petitioned warrant article at the Bond Hearing. She told voters that this warrant provided for a less expensive new school and the capacity to house all the elementary school students while making use of an existing asset [Griffin Memorial School.] She also said that residents needed a more conservative estimate that would have less impact on their property taxes while still providing an adequate education for all students.
One of the issues between the School Board and some residents has been the proposed estimate to renovate Griffin Memorial School. Both sides cite the study done by Team Design to support their allegations. The way the School Board reads that report, Griffin needs to be gutted and completely rebuilt from the inside out.
The way the dissenting residents read the report, there is some work to be done, but not all of it needs to be done now and some of the structural systems are working and will continue to service the Town for a number of years.
When School Board Chairman Cindy Couture moved to the public microphone to question the petitioned article, she asked for the specifics of what would be done for the $240,000 in proposed renovation money.
Spencer responded by stating that he had taken the School Board’s proposal and eliminated an expanded and larger parking lot because that wouldn’t be needed with only two grades left at Griffin, eliminated the sprinkler system and proposed having a separate warrant article for that and two other School Board projects that were not going to be needed if a new pre-K – 3 school was built. "That left $240,000 from the School Board’s proposal and we put that amount into the warrant article for repairs. We basically used your figure minus the extra projects that wouldn’t be needed."
Couture also questioned the amount of repair dollars that had been spent and what budget was proposed. Ortolano responded that she had used spreadsheets prepared by the SAU 27 Administrative staff on repair costs. "Those costs are significantly less than what the School Board previously presented," she challenged. "We used your figures. We didn’t make these up." Ortolano also went though all the systems, such as ventilation, that had already been upgraded and replaced and explained that they still had an expected lifespan. "Why would we replace systems that we’ve just paid to replace?"
Couture, then faced with explaining the differences between the two sets of repair figures that had come from the SAU, told the audience that the School Board had added dollars from several other lines to the maintenance line to get the figures they had been quoting.
Spencer’s only comment was, "You have to check any figure that Cindy gives you for accuracy. If it’s maintenance, it should be maintenance."
Residents will have an opportunity to speak to these two warrant articles at the School Deliberative Session to be held Saturday, February 5 at 2:00 p.m. in Campbell High School auditorium.
by Lynne Ober
With the Blizzard of 2005 behind us, a quick look at what it took to keep our streets clear and to get both students and workers safely off to work on the first work day after the blizzard seemed in order.
Road Agent Kevin Burns praised the work of his crew. When the snow starting falling at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, Burns watched. By 5:00 p.m. Hudson road crews were out on the road. "I have just a great group of guys. Not one of my guys has missed a storm. I can count on all of them being here when I need them," Burns smiled. He quickly explained that other towns aren’t so lucky and that when he attends conferences one or more road agents always talks about the difficulty of getting crews out during a storm. Burns just smiles because he knows that his guys always come and always stay during the duration.
"With big storms, we primarily just plow," Burns said, and that was true with this monster storm. Hudson Highway Department men worked from 5:00 p.m. Saturday through until 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, plowing Hudson’s 180 miles of road.
"We have to make four passes for each mile of road," Burns said. Two passes on each side of the street are needed to clear the road for travel. "During a storm like the one we had, we have to keep going over and over the roads."
After Burns sent his road crews home Sunday to rest, he knew that their work wasn’t over. "We put full road crews back out on the roads at 3:00 a.m. Monday morning in order to ensure that the roads were clear for the school buses and people going to work and again, not one guy called in sick. I had everyone here. It was just terrific."
Throughout the storm, Hudson’s DPW worked very safely. "We had no accidents and no breakdowns. It was a tremendous effort."
Recreation Department Requests Move to Lions Hall
by Lynne Ober
Hudson Recreation Director Dave Yates met with Selectmen to discuss turning Lions Hall into Hudson’s Recreation Center, citing the growth in the summer programs and the need for additional space at Tuesday nights Selectmen’s meeting.
This is not the first time that Yates has explored this option. Although there is currently some money available in a Capital Reserve Trust Fund to purchase land for a new Recreation Center, the programs are squeezed for space now and with Hudson growing, that need becomes more critical each year.
Lions Hall, which has a capacity of 300, would better accommodate current programming than the existing, smaller Recreation Center. Yates told Selectmen that an average of 250 children plus 23 adults attended the summer program on a daily basis.
In addition there has been a growth in the basketball program. In his problem explanation Yates wrote, "We do use all of our schools on a daily basis through the season for practices for our 76 teams. Hills-Garrison, Nottingham West and Memorial Schools are used every Saturday and Sunday throughout the season for games." Telling Selectmen that he got "full cooperation" from the schools, he also pointed out that schools do have after school or weekend programming and that when that is scheduled the basketball program is bumped because "school activities have priority over the recreation activities." Yates talked about making modifications to Lions Hall and using portable basketball hoops so that the Hall could also be utilized for basketball.
Under the current proposal, the Recreation Department would continue to make Lions Hall available September until the week before the Summer Program officially begins, usually in the first week in July, for non-profit groups such as the Seniors, Hannah Dustin Quilters, Women, Infant and Children, Fright Night, Blood Drives, Town Meetings and Town voting. However, the for profit groups, such as antique shows and sports card shows would have to find other accommodations.
Yates identified the following improvements that would need to be made to Lions Hall in order to accommodate this move:
To fund these improvements, Yates proposed using the $113,231 in the Planning Board Recreating Fund. "There would be no cost to the taxpayer," he told Selectmen and explained that this would fix a building that is in need of improvements.
Selectman Richard Maddox concurred that this money could be used for renovations and said that builders contribute $400 per unit to this fund.
Selectmen had a number of questions. Both Selectmen Kathleen McLean and Ken Massey thought that cost estimates should be provided for needed work. "That looks like a lot of work and I don’t know if you have the money."
Selectman Richard Maddox wondered if moving to Lions Hall was the right thing to do or if the Recreation Program should use the current Rec Center for programming for younger kids and use Lions Hall to augment the programming.
When Maddox also noted that Lions Hall has no fields and that the fields at H.O. Smith School and Library Street School are currently used by the summer programs, Yates replied that the fields were close enough that they would parade the children up to the fields when they wanted to use them.
Maddox also had concern about Lions Avenue which he characterized as a "speedway." Selectman Terry Stewart said that the Police Department would close that avenue while the summer program was in session.
Massey pointed out that the town had a signed agreement with the seniors in 1993 saying that the seniors would have a senior center. He pointed out that the Town used $180,000 from the Seniors Capital Reserve Fund to purchase Lions Hall. "I want to be absolutely certain that senior accommodations are taken care of before we approve this."
When Board of Selectmen Chairman Bill Cole asked Yates if he had talked to Lucille Boucher [President of the Hudson Seniors], Yates responded, "Not this time." Cole directed Yates to consult with Boucher.
Yates said in the past that Boucher had told him they needed kitchen facilities, which the Rec Center doesn’t have, and parking space, which the existing Rec Center also doesn’t have. In addition, Lions Hall is air-conditioned.
Other Selectmen wondered if the School District couldn’t provide facilities for the seniors during the summer. Town Administrator Steve Malizia was directed to ask Superintendent Bell about this and to explore using Alvirne’s parking lot for days when the seniors took trips.
Selectmen voted to defer a decision until February 8 in order to explore answers to questions.
PMA Students Raise $2,115 for Tsunami Victims
What started with spend a dollar for a dress down day, turned into raising over $2,000 for Tsunami victims. The students at Presentation of Mary Academy were offered a day of dressing down in return for a $1 fee. They were able to collect $2,115, which will be sent to the Catholic Relief Services to be used to help the flood victims. 7th grade student, Kyle Comas, stated that the feeling around the school was "if everyone did a little extra it would help."