Consultant issues report: build a new school building
WINSTED — The consultant hired to recommend a decision on whether to close one of the schools in the Winchester School District released his final report Tuesday, strongly recommending that the town either build a new school or rebuild two of its current buildings from the inside to make them essentially new structures.Dr. Joseph Castagnola, former superintendent of the New Fairfield school district, was hired by the Winchester Board of Education Dec. 13 to assist in making a final decision on whether to close a school building. He met with 15 focus groups in the area and performed assessments at all of the town’s public schools to come to his conclusion.Castagnola’s conclusion is to build a new facility on the site where Pearson Middle School is located and house all of the town’s pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students there.“The BOE and BOS (Board of Selectmen) should take advantage of the reimbursement rate from the State of Connecticut; the economics of bonding given present interest rates; and a labor market ripe for bidding,” Castagnola wrote. “A new school building for the town’s students in grades pre-kindergarten through grade six will provide the spaces they deserve.”Castagnola recommended that a new building committee be established immediately to deal with current safety and compliance issues at the town’s public schools, which he said have “multiple safety, logistic, electrical, heating, roofing, mechanical and other problems with their infrastructure which create unsafe risks.”The simple answer to the question of whether one or more school buildings should be closed in Winchester was, “Yes.”Hinsdale and Batcheller Schools should be closed, Castagnola wrote, once the proposed new school building is completed. But if a referendum for a new building does not pass by this November, he said, the new School Building Committee should “renovate as new” both Hinsdale and Batcheller Schools, and close Pearson Middle School.The Winchester Board of Education approved a $4,900 expense for Castagnola — a former state Superintendent of the Year — to issue his report, which will be presented at a public meeting this Saturday, March 3, 10 a.m., at Town Hall. The meeting was initially scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 29, but was rescheduled due to snow.At a meeting in late January, Castagnola said that closing a school building is something a town cannot take lightly.“Closing a facility is one of the biggest things you can do in a town,” Castagnola told the audience. “The worst thing a school district can do is rush and make a hasty decision on this, then have someone say ‘how did this happen?’”He said the current student population for 2011-2012 school year could fit into two buildings, but that the configuration would create a “tight” environment for them. Shaw Israel Izikson contributed to this story.