Board of Education Considers Space Needs for Beecher Road School
A malfunctioning pool filter at the 50-year-old Beecher Road School (BRS) pool has caused the town to close the facility down in late August, about four months ago, and commissioned an engineering report to find out what repairs are needed and what they would cost.
The engineer, Kyle Elmy with Weston&Sampson, presented his report to the Board of Selectmen at its October 12 meeting. The filter replacement would cost about $80,000 and add some two years to the life of the pool, the selectmen learned. Lead time for new filters would be two to three months. At the same time the engineer found several structural issues which would make this a much costlier project, upwards of $800,000, with an uncertain life span. By comparison, a new pool would cost between $2 to $4 million, he said.
The pool is located at the elementary school, which uses it as part of its physical education program. But it is a town pool and open to town residents on weekends.
The Selectmen subsequently referred the issue to the newly formed Town Building Committee for BRS Capital Projects – a building committee charged with developing a bond proposal to fix the school’s roof leaks; to fix the water incursion due to drainage problems and make some security updates. The committee consists of Selectwoman Sheila McCreven (chair), Board of Education Facilities Committee Chair Jeff Hughes and Board of Finance member Donovan Lofters.
But when the Board of Education members were asked to weigh in on the issue of the pool repair, they were confronted with a dilemma. Although many expressed their support of the pool and the educational value it adds, they were also aware that they are asking the town at the same time to support a bond package to fix up the school. No number has been attached to the potential bonding package yet, as the Building Committee has just started its work.
For the Board of Education members though, their thoughts were aiming beyond the necessary roof repair. What was on their minds was the fact that the school is already bursting at the seams, as far as instructional space is concerned, and enrollment is projected to increase. In fact, enrollment – which is currently at about 850 students — is projected to hit the 1,000 mark by 2031, according to Interim School Supt. Christine Syriac. “2031 will be here before you know it,” she said when the board discussed the issue at its November 21 meeting.
“We need to have the discussion that we will not be able to operate in this building in a few years,” said board member Erin Williamson. However, fixing the roof and then asking the town for a new building is “putting the cart in front of the horse,” warned Dr. Jay Dahya. “We are in this Catch 22 situation.”
“This is a huge issue for me in many, many ways,” agreed Board of Education Chairwoman Lynn Piascyk. She said it was time for the board to start this conversation and explore their space needs in earnest.
But the town leaders who took a walk-through of the building at the invitation of the Building Committee, were surprised when, instead of inspecting the roof leaks, administrators showed them just how tight instructional space had become.
For McCreven, who some 10 years ago chaired the Woodbridge Board of Education, and has led several building committees before this one, the scenario is not new. Back in 2001, when then Superintendent Wolfe wanted to educate the community about Beecher’s space needs, he would publish a “Space Odyssey” every week, pointing out where the weaknesses were. McCreven said she encouraged the board to follow that example and do more publicity in this regard.
The community at large does not understand why the school is complaining about the lack of space when some 20 years ago they taught more than 1,000 students. In today’s educational environment, there is a greater need for “pull-out” instruction for students than what was done even a few years ago. “They need smaller spaces,” she said.
Last year, the school divided the Rotunda to teach special ed classes – a less than desirable solution given the size and acoustics in the space. Should the district need to add another classroom due to incoming students, that will necessitate putting a Specials teacher on a cart, Syriac said.
McCreven said the Board of Ed will need to form a subcommittee to study its space needs, and suggest a solution. It will need to look at the numbers and decide whether to either add a portable classroom, build a wing or build a separate building on the Beecher grounds. Another possibility is to fill in the pool and turn it into classroom space.
In the meantime, the Building Committee will continue its work on a bonding package, to bring the immediate repairs to referendum, possibly sometime next year. The roof work could then be performed in the summer of 2024.
“Until then they’ll have the buckets in the hallways,” McCreven said. As for the swimmers, both the Jewish Community Center and the Orange pool are open to them, according to Recreation Director John Adamovich.
By Bettina Thiel, Woodbridge Town News Correspondent