By Rosemarie White
As many of you know, I am on the HUUSD Board. I am also the chair of the Executive Facilities Committee charged by the board to make recommendations for renovating Harwood Union High School. While this has been a long and arduous process, the thought of providing our students with an up-to-date and modern facility that can deliver a current educational experience to our students has been exciting and motivational.
As we have gone through this process, analyzing enrollment data and current pedagogical needs, it is clear to me a decision to unite all of our seventh- and eighth-grade students must be made. This decision is not only based upon what our administrators tell us is best for our seventh- and eighth-grade students from a social, emotional and educational perspective, but also significantly affects the work and cost of what can happen at the high school.
Harwood Union High School was originally built in 1965 and must be renovated. The building has been very well maintained; however, it is not only out of code but has many of the original mechanical systems which are more than 20 years past their useful lives. Every year we wait to renovate Harwood, the cost of these renovations goes up an estimated $1 million. This figure does not take into account the fact that if a mandatory system breaks down, the school will have to replace/repair the system in an emergency situation, which is always more costly.
If the middle school stays at Harwood, it is estimated an additional 25,000 square feet of space will be needed to renovate the high school to meet code and current pedagogical requirements to keep Harwood competitive with other schools that are competing for the same families. The additional square footage would increase the size of the science labs, which are horribly out of code; provide a ninth-grade team space; create a space for vocational exploration; and provide an additional gymnasium, which would allow the school to expand its athletic programs. If the middle schools are combined at Crossett Brook, the Harwood middle school space could be incorporated into the renovations, significantly reducing the cost of construction.
At our last board meeting, some members of the board expressed concern that they needed additional information before they could vote to merge the middle schools. Additional information included determining whether or not we should build a Valley middle school for fifth- through eighth-graders; there was even a suggestion to hold off on any renovations to Harwood until redesign of the entire district happened.
I feel we are at a crossroads. We are in an environment of declining enrollment with a high school that continues to be neglected because of our unwillingness to make tough decisions. If we want to attract new families to our district, then we need to show them we have a high school that can provide a 21st-century educational experience in a facility that appropriately delivers that education. We need to take advantage of operational efficiencies to prove to our taxpayers that we take our role as the fiscal guardians of their taxes seriously so they will support us as we strive to make Harwood Union High School an example of innovative education.
I would encourage everyone to attend the annual meeting of the school district on Monday, March 4, and to stay for the presentation by TruexCullins, which will follow at 7 p.m. in the high school library. The presentation will provide information regarding the proposed work to be done at the high school and the estimated cost of the work.
White lives in Warren.