Guilford to weigh costs, options on building new schools vs. repairs

By Rachael Scarborough King
Dec. 10, 2007

GUILFORD — Residents may soon have the opportunity to weigh in on what the district should do to fix ongoing facilities problems at two schools.

Board of Education members and a facilities task force have identified Guilford High School and Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School as needing renovations. Both schools have outdated ventilation systems and lack the space for technology equipment.

At the high school, the population has so outgrown the cafeteria that students have to eat lunch in waves starting at 10 a.m.

At Adams, some classrooms in the middle school basement had to be closed for a time this semester because of a mold problem caused by flooding last spring.

Board Chairman William Bloss said that work on the schools is in “extremely early” stages, and the alternatives could range from doing nothing to building new schools. Other options include modest renovation or a “renovate as new” project.

“Fundamentally, it’s a cost-benefit analysis (as to) where on that spectrum does it make sense to land,” Bloss said. “That’s the whole point of the investigation that we’re going through.”

The facilities task force is working with Shelton-based architectural firm Fletcher Thompson, Superintendent of Schools Tom Forcella said. The architects are developing plans to show the costs and improvements associated with the different levels of work possible at each school.

He added that the architects have placed the price for a “renovated as new” high school at about $90 million. That would include a new auditorium, a completely renovated interior and moving the cafeteria from the basement to the first floor.

The cost of a similar project at the middle school, with a new two-story structure for additional classrooms, would be about $58 million, according to Fletcher Thompson.

Forcella said that the definition of a “renovate as new” project is that the building would last another 20 years. The scope of the project would entitle the district to a 30 percent state reimbursement of the cost, he added.

In comparison, the architects put the price for a new high school at $115 million to $120 million and for a new middle school at $67 million.

“These are the most expensive options, and what they’ll do is then work their way down from there to see what the compromises might be to provide them the best bang for their buck that will serve the community well and the schools well for the next 20 to 30 years,” he said.

In January 2003, residents defeated a $55 million proposal to renovate Abraham Baldwin Middle School and replace Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School with a new building.

Adams is about 70 years old and has been expanded several times over the years. The high school was built in the 1950s, and most recently expanded in 1993.

“The (high school’s ventilation) system is just basically opening the windows,” Forcella said. “The windows are all single-pane glass, so that, again, is in need of some infrastructure upgrades.”

Bloss said that he hopes the process of identifying alternatives for discussion will be completed soon and the district can begin to hold public hearings in the next couple of months. The board’s timeline includes having a proposal by 2009 and starting work in 2011 or 2012.

He added that Guilford has spent less on school buildings in the past than comparable districts across the state.

“That doesn’t mean that we should build a new school, but it does mean that we’ve been very frugal with our building funds, and at some point we have to determine if we can continue to spend at that very low level,” Bloss said. “At some point, deferring maintenance and deferring renovations winds up creating greater expense in the future.”

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