WALLINGFORD – The Board of Education set a deadline this week for deciding the future of school facilities in the city.
Board members voted to hold a public forum by January 15 and make a decision on a district-wide facility study.
Last month, architects from Silver Petrucelli Associates submitted a report outlining options for citywide public school improvements, including merging the high schools into one building versus renovating the two existing buildings.
The study examined improvements in schools at all grade levels and the possibility of moving headquarters, the adult education program and a transition program to the current police department building.
At a special meeting Monday, Superintendent Danielle Bellizzi explained that the facilities study was initiated in 2018 when Salvatore Menzo was Superintendent of Schools. Primary schools were not originally included in the study.
“When I took over as superintendent in July 2021, there was a meeting with representatives from the Office of School Construction Grants & Review and we discussed and reviewed where the district left off and what our next steps would be,” Bellizzi said. “At that meeting, the state had told us that a study would need to include all schools in Wallingford, including elementary schools, which we didn’t do last time.”
The revised study recommended updates to primary schools, such as B. Replacing Cook Hill School’s portable classrooms with an annex to the building and adding a bathroom for special needs students at Parker Farms School as the school is home to the Benhaven program. However, the Board of Education decided to focus on high schools and/or middle schools first.
“I just think we finally have to decide, are we going to renovate or redo?” said board member Michael Votto. “Let’s start with the high schools, for example. Let’s make that decision and then move on, tweaking things as we go, but at least until January when we know this is where we’re going and we know, maybe one day we’ll stick another board in the back of your mind can deal with the elementary schools, so be it. We can’t do everything, we know that. We don’t have the money, but we started this whole process by talking about high schools.”
During the session, before voting on their next steps regarding the facility study, the board members had the opportunity to put questions to the architects of Silver Petrucelli and Bellizzi.
One of the questions that came up a number of times during the meeting concerned the pedagogical aspects of merging Lyman Hall and Sheehan High Schools into one larger school and renovating both middle schools to new condition.
Renovate like new means that the renovation certifies that aspects of the building will be maintained for at least the next 20 years.
“You will basically touch almost every component of the building and most of the site, essentially confirming that the longevity of anything you touch will last over 20 years,” said David Stein, principal architect. “By doing so, you completely renovate every wall, door, mechanical system, window, roof and all code conformances required for it.”
Bellizzi said if the district decides to consolidate the high schools into one building, there could be more educational opportunities for students.
“If you think about the program that we have now, so now both high schools, we don’t have every single program in every single high school,” Bellizzi said. “Some of the educational benefits would be being able to have all of these programs in one place, access for all of our students and the things that we can offer.”
For the middle schools, a focus would be updating the science classrooms if the board decides to renovate like new, which Bellizzi said could help update the programming.
Regarding the merger of the two schools, Marla Roscoe, secretary of the Board of Education, expressed concern that students will have equal opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities at the high school level.
“I think we’re going to take away some of the opportunities for people to really get involved,” Roscoe said. “…I think there’s a great opportunity for people to learn really valid lifelong skills by being on things like the music and sports and the robotics team and things like that, and when we’re in a school join together, there is essentially a loss for half the people. I think sometimes when you’re not the best but still have the opportunity to participate, you really do have an opportunity to learn some really valuable life skills.”
In response, Kathy Castelli, board member, said she noticed that the same children were playing multiple roles in the musicals because there wasn’t overturning. Some time ago, Castelli said the board found that different levels could be offered for many sports, such as two schools being merged.
In addition to considering the pros and cons of combining Sheehan and Lyman Hall into one building, board members also wanted to learn more about population trends in Wallingford schools.
Enrollment projection consultant Peter Prowda shared with Bellizzi some enrollment trends for ninth graders as this is their first opportunity to enter a state technical high school.
Based on October 2021 data, 73% of Wallingford residents enrolled in the ninth grade were enrolled in the district. Magnet and other public schools made up 3% of ninth graders, state technical high schools 12.6% of Wallingford ninth graders, state non-public schools 10.6%, and homeschooling 0.6%.
“It’s only one year’s worth of data, but at least it gives you a little breakdown,” Bellizzi said.
In 2019, the Board of Education conducted a community survey that received approximately 2,000 responses. The Board will host a community forum shortly before January 15th, during which members will update the public on their next steps regarding the Facility Study while also providing an opportunity for community members to share their opinions.
The Board is aiming for an in-person and virtual meeting while also looking for a way to allow those who are unable to attend both meetings to submit their comments and questions to the Board.