Guilford board votes to replace 2 schools

By Rachael Scarborough King
Sept. 16, 2008

GUILFORD — The Board of Education voted Monday night that the town should start work to replace Guilford High School and Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School.

The action will serve as recommendations to the boards of Selectmen and Finance, which have final say in putting bonding resolutions before voters. School board members recommended that the town put forward a referendum next spring to build a high school at a cost not to exceed $112 million, and to do urgent health and safety repairs at the middle school.

In addition, the board voted to create a committee to study some continuing questions surrounding the replacement of the middle school.

“This is not something that we’re going to just let drag on,” board member Kathleen Nolan said. “This is something that needs to be addressed, and needs to be addressed quickly.”

The motions concerning the middle school passed unanimously, while the question of whether to build a new high school passed by a vote of 8-1 with board member Ted Zuse dissenting.

In their votes, board members followed the recommendations of a task force that has been meeting for more than four years.

Both schools are decades old and have problems with air quality, security, energy efficiency and technology. The middle school has also had persistent flooding in its basement classrooms.

The task force found that replacing the high school could be a relatively straightforward — although expensive — process, as a new building could be under construction on the same site as the current one without disrupting classes. But the middle school has more complicated issues, such as where to build a new school and what to do with the Adams building if the grades are moved.

Board member Mary Beeman noted that the vote does not indicate a prioritizing of the high school’s problems.

“I think the scuttlebutt is, ‘Oh, they’re going to do the high school first,’ but really it’s a concurrent project,” she said. “However, building probably wouldn’t start on Adams until a little further down the road.”

Board member Barbara Dudley added: “I’m terribly frustrated that we aren’t moving ahead on the Adams situation, but it seems like these issues need to be resolved.”

An assessment from a consultant put the price of a new high school at $112 million, the figure the board used for its recommendation to the selectmen and Board of Finance. The consultant also said that the basic health and safety repairs at Adams would cost about $28 million, and the price for replacing the school was about $70 million.

Superintendent Thomas Forcella said that the figures will most likely be revised and the town expects to receive about a 30 percent reimbursement from the state.

In January 2003, residents defeated a $55 million proposal to renovate Abraham Baldwin Middle School and replace Adams Middle School with a new building. Adams serves seventh and eighth gradets, while Baldwin School includes fifth and sixth grades.

Zuse said he does not think the town should pursue the most expensive option presented: building a high school.

“I don’t at this point believe that there is a majority of support in the town that will support the town spending $112 million on a new high school,” he said.

But board Chairman William Bloss said he thinks a new school will be the most fiscally sound option.

“We’re at this point not because it is a perfect alternative, but because it carries the fewest risks and the greatest potential benefits in my view,” Bloss said. “If we do nothing more than light renovation now that will add a few years of dreary life to a dreary building, and we will have shifted what I think of as our responsibility to the next generation.”

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