Madison’s school renewal plan takes center stage as district reviews updated details and schedule

By Jesse Williams / Zip06.com • 02/06/2021 12:06 PM EST

It has been described as one of the most important and perhaps one of the most important decisions Madison has faced in at least a decade. The price alone, which is still somewhere between $ 120 million and $ 130 million, makes it the type of investment that can define a city for generations.

Last week, school administrators, consultants and the Board of Education launched a process that, in about nine months, will ask the residents of Madison to make a decision on the future of the city’s school district: whether taxpayers will step in to build a brand new primary school and redevelop the remaining buildings or continue to invest in infrastructure that is functional but at risk of becoming obsolete.

“For me, our community deserves an answer,” said Katie Stein, BOE member. “A lot of things depend on that.”

Having already considered a referendum in November, officials turned to a vote between December 2021 and February 2022.

The first public forum of this final round — which was held virtually, although other boards and commissions returned to face-to-face meetings — lasted just under 90 minutes, with dozens of questions and comments from residents following a presentation by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Craig Cooke on what the project will involve.

In September 2019, residents were familiar with the plan as the “4-school model” and sometimes “school renewal plan”. Put on hold (or “cryogenically frozen,” as BOE chairman Galen Cawley joked at the public forum) in the spring of 2020, it remains for the most part intact, though officials have reframed the cost structure, at around $ 85. million dollars guaranteed in advance and 47 dollars. million dollars from the city’s Capital Improvement Program (CAP) over the next decade.

Cooke said it’s likely the district will be able to pull out around $ 10 million in grants, which means the initial $ 85 million will be reduced to $ 75 million for taxpayers.

Functionally, the plan calls for the construction of a brand new elementary school on one of two possible sites, either on the adjoining sports fields in Polson, where the city already owns the land, or just to the west. secondary school on Mungertown Road, on land that has not yet been purchased.

This school would open in the fall of 2025, assuming voters approve the plan.

Both have pros and cons, with the first site disrupting softball and field hockey for at least two years as schools build new athletic fields, and the second requiring a purchase of land and potentially costing more to buy. public services.

Building directly across from Polson would also require razing Jeffery to make room for these new sports grounds, while the Mungertown Road site would allow the city to preserve this building for municipal or other purposes.

Either way, Ryerson will be demolished if the referendum passes, with city officials saying its age and specific build make it essentially useless to the city.

The plan also calls for a major overhaul of Brown Middle School, converting it to a K-5 and adding many other upgrades, including an outdoor classroom, which officials say is something the parents asked especially after the pandemic, and would take advantage of some of the natural beauty of this property.

Kindergarten students who previously attended the Town Campus Learning Center would instead be served by the new elementary school.

Arguments

While some residents have backed down from the price, especially in the wake of the economic crisis surrounding the pandemic, officials have sought to explain that whatever voters decide on this plan, there will be a cost.

If no new schools are built, the maintenance of the current facilities is estimated at around $ 100 million over 10 years. Facilities manager Bill McMinn has warned that some of these issues will be urgent, although others have been pushed to the end of this 10-year plan.

With the cost of building materials skyrocketing during the pandemic, other people fear that actual building costs will be much higher if the neighborhood goes ahead with new construction and renovations in the current climate.

According to McMinn and Cooke, actual construction is still a year or two away, and the district has been told by consultants that prices will almost certainly normalize before that date, falling somewhere near their pre-pandemic levels.

Another chorus of concern has come from those who see the plan as creating more deadweight assets, potentially adding Jeffery and Ryerson at Academy and Island to the list of unused old school properties the city is grappling with.

First Selectman Peggy Lyons said at a board meeting last week that the city will explore both municipal uses or a Jeffery sale, assuming the building is not demolished with Ryerson. She pointed out that a Request for Proposals (RFP) had recently been issued for the island and that a facilities ‘master plan’ already assesses the possibilities for the Ryerson and Jeffery properties, although those possibilities have not been discussed. publicly discussed.

Although Jeffery is the older of the two schools, it received larger and more recent upgrades about 20 years ago, according to McMinn.

Traffic is another concern raised by residents as the town is adding another school to the Green Hill Road area, also concentrating buildings in the southern part of town.

Using the Mungertown Road site would reduce those traffic problems, Cooke said, although he acknowledged that the district had concentrated schools in that area even before this plan.

Another raised concern related to the pandemic is the population. The district was required by the state to project future enrollments over the next decade before seeking to build a new school, and this analysis found that Madison is likely to strongly reverse a declining school-age population. , driven by a rising birth rate and younger families moving to cities.

With an area of ​​82,000 square feet and a capacity of 600 students, Cooke said the new school can easily handle the next 10 years of increased enrollment. The high school also has plenty of room for long-term increases, currently operating well below capacity, and Cooke added that the Ryerson or Jefferson properties could even accommodate another school if the city experiences continued increases after 2031.

Going forward, Cooke said the district hopes to have in-person public forums on the renewal plan. He and Cawley previously answered questions and presented the plan to the BOS at their first in-person public meeting on May 24.


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