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Committee Favors New Charter Oak Building as Best Option

West Hartford Board of Education will vote on the options at its next meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 27.

The Charter Oak advisory meeting had its final meeting of the first phase of its role in determining the school's future, and the recommendation seemed to support rebuilding rather than renovating the existing Charter Oak International Academy building.

Many committee members were unable to attend Monday night's session, but submitted recommendations via email.

"While I, like others, appreciate the current Charter Oak building, it's a physical facility that is fast approaching its expiration date. We have a unique opportunity to build a new school at a reduced cost," said committee member Keith Griffin in an email.

Reg Paige wrote that although renovating and rebuilding are each great choices, "I believe a new state-of-the art new building will not only benefit the current constituencies of Charter Oak International Academy, but it will also accomplish something that has been very elusive during the school's magnet years: A new building will attract, in greater numbers, magnet students from the other elementary school districts whose parents have up until now been reluctant to give Charter Oak a chance."

Nichola Dustin said via email that she thought a new building would be "more environmentally friendly and fiscally responsible."

Cynthia Isales cited "cost, time, and disruption of curriculum" as factors in favor of a new building rather than renovation.

Janet Fournier, who said she knew she was an "underdog," was one of the two committee members  in favor of renovating. "This building is sound, strong. I don’t know why we’re so quick to sell it out and take it down. The dollar amounts weren’t that off. That’s my feeling. An old building can be renovated to be a functional building," she said.

Julie Grisé also favored renovation. "I think having the building continue as part of the community is important."

A total of nine of the 20 committee members expressed approval for rebuilding. Several Town Council and Board of Education members are also on the committee, but plan to reserve their opinions for upcoming budget deliberations.

The renovation options range in projected cost from $42 to $49 million, while rebuilding is estimated to cost from $41 to $45 million, including the cost of eventually demolishing the existing structure. Renovations are estimated to take until the fall of 2017, while a new building could open in the spring of 2016.

The Board of Education will vote on the Charter Oak project at its next meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 27, and the Town Council will make the ultimate decision on the project when it votes on the 2013-2014 budget.

“The sense of the committee is clear, and that will be represented,” said Board of Education Chairman Bruce Putterman.

The committee was appointed in mid-October, after West Hartford's legislative delegation advised the Board of Education that the Charter Oak project would be eligible for state funding at a 80 percent level due its classification as a "Diversity School" – defined as "a school in which the percentage of minority students varies from the average minority population for the district by plus or minus 25 percent."

The committee is tasked with the roles of:

  • Managing the community input process regarding a renovate vs. rebuild
  • Providing the Board of Education with a recommendation to either renovate or rebuild
  • Touring relevant schools and seeking input from experts to become better informed about issues that are relevant to the potential renovation or new design of Charter Oak
  • Managing the community input process regarding for the future design of the project once the nature of the project has been determined
  • Synthesizing community input on design and providing that input to the selected architect.

The feasibility study from planning architect Drummey Rosannne Anderson, Inc. (DRA) was presented the West Hartford Board of Education last Tuesday, and despite reservations by several board members, the majority seemed committed to moving forward with the project.

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