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Charter Oak Construction, Stadium Lights Part of Proposed $49.3 Million Capital Improvement Plan

Renovation or rebuilding of Charter Oak International Academy is the major component of the West Hartford Public Schools proposed Captial Improvement Plan.

A lengthy discussion about the need for proposed renovation or rebuilding of Charter Oak International Academy preceded a West Hartford Board of Education vote Tuesday night to receive the Capital Improvement Plan for 2013-2014.

Assistant Superintendent Tom Moore and Director of Finance and Planning Chip Ward presented a Capital Improvement Plan totalling $49,340,000 to the board. The entire proposal can be found on the West Hartford Public School's website.

In most years, the Board of Education requests approximately $4 million as its share of the town's Capital Improvement Plan, but this year, $45 million in potential cost for the renovation or rebuilding of Charter Oak International Academy has also been included.

The assumption being used in the Capital Improvement Plan is that the State Board of Education will approve whatever proposal is chosen for Charter Oak under the designation of a "Diversity School," and will reimburse the town for 80 percent of eligible costs.

Unless waivers to state space standards – which do not include allowances for auditorium space, larger-sized pre-K classrooms, or family resource center areas – or other limits to eligible costs are obtained, the state's share of the project for planning purposes is estimated at 63 percent. The local cost would then be estimated at $16.65 million according to the proposed Capital Improvement Plan.

Board of Education Chairman Bruce Putterman said that he has shared the initial proposal with State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann and State Sen. Beth Bye, who were instrumental in obtaining the "Diversity School" designation, and they said they would work to get as close to the goal of 80 percent reimbursement as possible. The local share would then be $8 to $9 million.

Putterman said that the entire projected amount of the project is initially allocated, but then the town is reimbursed.

The $45 million number is just a "placeholder," Ward said. On Tuesday, architect Jim Barrett, of Drummey Rosane Anderson, presented the Board of Education with the three options provided to the 20-person Charter Oak committee two weeks ago.

His firm was hired as a planning architect to develop space needs and provide estimated costs and timelines for either building a completely new school building or renovating the existing structure to accommodate additional students and meet current building codes.

The final feasibility study presented Tuesday night is available for review here.

Republicans Jay Sarzen and Mark Zydanowicz, both of whom have recently joined the Board of Education, expressed concerns that the project is moving too quickly and that the "business side" of the proposal had not been fully analyzed.

Sarzen asked if the three proposed options were "mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive."

"In the business world, just because you have a good idea doesn’t mean it will get funded. The most overriding concern I have with this is that you have to get 270 kids to voluntarily sign on to go to Charter Oak." The construction plans are to increase the size of Charter Oak to accommodate 560 students and bring the ratio of minority to non-minority students to within 25 percent of town averages by attracting additional magnet students. Charter Oak currently has 320 students.

Zydanowicz said he also has reservations, and wanted to see more market research through polling of elementary school families to see if they would send their children to a new Charter Oak. "I don’t think we can use the 'build it and they will come' philosophy; I think that’s irresponsible," he said.

Ward said that the five preschool classrooms which are part of the Charter Oak plan would themselves be a major draw.

Ward also said that some renovations at Charter Oak will be necessary in the near future anyway, since it has been determined that the heating, mechanical, and plumbing systems are reaching the end of their life expectancies.

"What I see is a chance to redo a school that is one of the oldest in the town for 80 percent as opposed to 47 percent. In next 50 years we’ll have to do this at a lot of schools. This is just a huge opportunity for us from a fiscal perspective. It’s an intelligent opportunity," said Terry Schmitt.

This is about dollars and cents, but this is also about vision. We have been talking about vision for a long time," said Elin Katz. She said that a modern Charter Oak would be a school where the "physical space would reflect the educational thinking."

The other "expansion" project in the Capital Improvement Plan is $250,000 for increased school security measures which have been proposed in light of the Dec. 14 incident in Newtown. Card access entry systems, exterior lock changes, installation of "panic buttons," and other measures are included.

The Capital Improvement Plan also includes $500,000 for lights at both Conard and Hall stadiums. Katz said that it is estimated that half of that figure will be reimbursed by the state, thanks to funding secured by Fleischmann.

In addition, the "West Hartford High Schools Unite for Lights" coalition has been working hard soliciting support and raising funds for the effort and will submit plans to Town Planning and Zoning later this month.

The Board of Education will vote on adoption of its Capital Improvement Plan on Feb. 27. It will then be passed along to Town Manager Ron Van Winkle who will propose the overall budget to the Town Council in March.

Capital improvements, other than non-recurring capital expenditures such as furniture and equipment, computers, and lockers, are funded through bonds and state grants and are not paid for under the town's operating budget.

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