As the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board focuses on plans to upgrade Harwood Union, its members have taken the controversial issue of school district redesign off the table for a few years.
The decision to take redesign off the table was made this spring when the board asked Superintendent Brigid Nease to stop working out costing models on redesign until the board can work on creating a process, a communications plan and a community engagement plan.
Last December Nease issued a white paper on school district redesign for the six towns and seven schools in the district that called for putting all middle-schoolers in the district at Crossett Brook, closing two Valley elementary schools and moving Thatcher Brook fourth-graders to Crossett Brook.
That white paper generated significant community response and prompted the formation of several community groups, such as Save Our Schools, whose members were upset and angry about the possibility of schools being closed and middle-schoolers spending a long time on the bus to get from the farthest reaches of the district to Crossett Brook.
“It’s a super emotional debate that’s going to take a couple of years to deal with and we felt it was more important to return to the issue of Harwood Union,” explained HUUSD Board chair Christine Sullivan.
Since May the board has been working on a plan to update and renovate Harwood Union that was started in 2015 and then shelved as the six member towns in the district spent a year preparing to vote to merge under Act 46. The architectural firm of TruexCullins had been hired in 2015 to assess the issues at Harwood and has issued a report and a cost estimate of $17 million.
“It’s been three years since that discussion and it costs about a million dollars a year to delay,” Sullivan said. The board is currently working on a timeline that will have voters casting ballots on a $19 million to $25 million bond next spring at Town Meeting.
“The issues associated with school redesign are too emotionally charged and we don’t want the bond to go down because of redesign. Clearly that work is going to take a long time,” Sullivan explained.
“We need to get to a better place to discuss it,” she added.
Rather than redesign, the emphasis of the board’s work has been working with TruexCullins on the scope of work at Harwood, with a very specific look at how middle-schoolers are educated in the district.
HOW MIDDLE SCHOOL MIGHT WORK
The board held one forum this summer on how the middle school might work. Two residents of each town were allowed to participate in that workshop. According to newly resigned Moretown board member Peter Langella, much more community outreach and engagement is needed before any ideas are finalized for the district’s two middle schools: Crossett Brook Middle School (CBMS) and Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS).
Langella was also critical of the board hiring ReArch to manage the construction project for a plan that has not been articulated by TruexCullins, which hasn’t completed its community outreach on the middle school. The next opportunity for public comment on the middle school will be September 5 in the Harwood Union auditorium at a time to be determined.
According to the August 16 minutes of the board’s executive project committee, TruexCullins and the committee are focusing on three different middle school configurations for the district.
The first is to keep things the way they are with Valley middle-schoolers attending HUMS and Waterbury/Duxbury middle-schoolers attending CBMS. Another part of that first option includes making HUMS separate and self-contained from the high school.
A second option is for all seventh- and eighth-graders in the district to attend HUMS and a third option is for all seventh- and eighth-graders in the district to attend CBMS.
The board’s current plan is to make a middle school decision on October 10.
Sullivan said the bond will need to include funds to upfit whichever facility will handle that number of seventh- and eighth-graders.
A successful bond vote in March 2019 would mean a construction start in 2020 and completion in autumn of 2021.