It will be up to voters in March if they want to add another school in Windham. The School Board voted Friday night to place a $31 million bond on the ballot to build a new seventh and eighth grade middle school on London Bridge Road.
Included in this bond is $1.9 million for a new multi-purpose turf and field complex at Windham High School.
The warrant for the bond will require 60 percent of the vote to pass.
If the new middle school is approved, the older one will house grades four, five and six. Golden Brook would house kindergarten through grade two and Center School would house grades three and four.
Currently grade three is split between Golden Brook Elementary School and Windham Center School.
Because the three schools are over capacity by more than 700 students as of December 2012 (excluding the portables at Golden Brook,) programs have been cut or modified.
Students are learning music and art from mobile carts, with no dedicated rooms. World language and enrichment classes have been cut in the lower grades, and physical education times have been reduced in first grade because of increased class size. Some teaching is done in the hallways.
It was stated at the hearing Friday night that the Fire Department has asked the schools to stop using the stairwells and hallways for teaching.
During the two-hour session Friday, the School Board outlined the plan and answered questions from citizens.
Some asked why the district couldn’t come up with a smaller solution.
The board answered that it did not want to just “kick the can just a little further down the road” with a temporary solution that would require coming back in a couple of years for another expansion plan.
The board said the operating cost of the new building would be around $1 million per year. This includes the total operating cost (teachers, lights, etc.) However, no hard numbers have been determined yet and they will be refining the numbers as it gets closer to the vote. There will be some cost savings since there will be most likely be a reduction of an assistant principle at the current middle school.
Some questioned why an addition just couldn’t be added to the existing high school. The response was that 87,000 sq. ft. is needed and that a new administration would have to still be hired as the skill sets for middle and high school staff is different.
Also, building at the new high school would mean demolishing part of the new high school, and this would mean additional costs for demolition, roads, parking, lighting, sewer and water, and an updated HVAC system.
In addition, the seventh and eighth grades would have to be isolated from the high school and that would mean common space such and the cafeteria, gym and auditorium would not be able to be shared.
If nothing is done, it is projected that the current middle school will have a 1:40 teacher/student ratio.
A slide presentation showing photographs of the overcrowding situation was shown to the 30 or so citizens who showed up at the hearing Friday.
School Board Chairman Bruce Anderson was very vocal about the current middle school’s lack of science labs and technical education. He referred to a photo of eight middle school students around a hot plate doing experiments.
“This is not a lab,” he said. “It’s one or two students doing the work and the remaining six students observing a demonstration.”
He added that the high school has to compensate for the skills that were not learned in middle school.
“This is what I was referring to when I say that our school system is not effective,” said Kevin Lefebvre, one of the founders of WINS – Windham Initiative for a New School. “Teachers at the upper levels have to compensate for the students not being taught enough at the lower levels which is costing us money at the upper levels.”
Lefebvre added that the school tax impact would not reach the high water mark of Fiscal Year 2012.
“Taxes may creep up a bit because of the high school and middle school bonds, but as the high school bond is paid off, taxes will begin to go down,” he said.
The proposed solution for economic tax impact for a home valued at $300,000 was $701.94 for FY12. It will drop to $461.34 in FY13 and creep up to $700.70 by FY16. It will then lower each year as the bond for the new middle school is paid off.
WINS is holding informal neighborhood meetings to talk with residents about the new middle school solution to overcrowding.