Reactions to four proposed middle school options were mixed when the full Harwood Union Unified School (HUUSD) Board received the middle school options presentation from Dave Epstein from TruexCullins and Bert DeLaBruere of ReArch.
At a September 19 meeting, the HUUSD executive project committee recommended option four to the full board, which involves sending all seventh- and eighth-graders in the district to Crossett Brook Middle School at an estimated cost of $7,925,688 -- subject to change. Board reactions to that recommendation ranged from desire to consider other options, to requests to seek more community input and to revisiting the option of doing nothing.
The fourth plan that TruexCullins proposed and the executive committee has recommended focused solely on Crossett Brook. This would have all seventh- and eighth-grade students in the district attending Crossett Brook, along with the Waterbury/Duxbury fifth- and sixth-graders. The Valley fifth- and sixth-graders would stay put. This option would include a new addition with an option for a second floor, an art room, an option for a second floor makers space, an administration space renovation, and a new electrical room that ReArch recommended. Parking was a concern with this scenario as staff would need to be accommodated with an estimated 80 new spaces needed. The cost of this renovation would be $7,925,688 -- subject to change.
“The committee has put together a draft recommendation for the board’s consideration, this was a unanimous recommendation, I should add. Based on all this research and analysis over the last three months the executive project committee endorses option four as the best option for the middle school experience,” said Epstein, “I would note this is also consistent with the community input we received to date.”
THREE POSSIBLE FACTORS
Epstein then gave three possible factors on why option four would be best suited for the project. First, both the community and educators stress the importance of a dedicated middle school staff and space, the benefit of bringing the seventh- and eighth- graders together for an equitable experience and lastly, a smoother transition to high school and bringing the children together sooner to build a sense of community.
Waterbury representative Maureen McCracken suggested different options, “I’m struggling with the idea that we would pick one of these four when there are probably other options we should be looking at as well.”
Other board members echoed her in questioning other possibilities such as option zero, doing nothing at all and focusing on the $19 million bond for the high school renovation.
The school board members then discussed the idea of having both middle schools open to the public for a guided tour.
Principal Lisa Atwood commented that there would be time constraint before the next presentation due to meetings already scheduled and back-to-school nights still occurring at Crossett Brook.
The other proposals involve a variety of work on the existing Harwood Union campus.
In the first proposal, renovation would happen at Harwood Union Middle School with no work done at Crossett Brook and with no change in student status quo. Harwood Union Middle School would be expanded with the addition of two wings, one on either side of the existing middle school, and a renovation to the existing middle school space. There would be team spaces and administrative suites and the space would be self-contained. This plan costs an estimated $7,035,929 – subject to change.
The second option would be renovation and additions to Harwood Union Middle School with no work to Crossett Brook, with the proposed wings, plus a new gym space attached onto the building and 10,000 feet of renovation to the existing middle school. This space would be self-contained. The new gym option would have an eating area for the middle school and new classrooms for health, art and music. This renovation would cost an estimated $12,498,688 -- subject to change.
Option three also involves work only at Harwood Union Middle School and features the addition of an entire second floor. The renovation would be the same as the proposed second option with an elevator access to the second floor. All seventh- and eighth-grade students in the district would attend Harwood Union Middle School, and Crossett Brook would host the Waterbury and Duxbury fifth- and sixth-graders only. This would mean the addition of new staff to accommodate the influx of students. The board members present expressed the dire need of more parking spaces. This plan would cost an estimated $17,471,489.
At the community presentation held on September 5, at the Harwood auditorium, school board member Alycia Biondo, Warren, asked about the ability to build on Class 3 wetlands that surround Harwood’s current middle school. At the time, the executive committee had no answers as a survey was to be conducted shortly after to see if the redesign project (one through three options has an addition to the Harwood middle school) could actually be built.
Epstein and Ray Daigle, facilities manager for the school district, came back with information for the board members from the state survey.
The wetlands would cost the district more money than projected to build upon outside of the millions already discussed for the building itself and future maintenance. The wetlands would need evaluations, more surreys, permits, compensatory mitigation, and the overall cost would be $3.02 more per square foot to build on the wetland.
Options one through three would be affected or disturbed if the renovation project would take place at the Harwood Middle School.
Principals in the HUUSD were present at the meeting and advised the board members to think about and decide upon a dedicated middle school staff. Harwood Union Middle School and High School share teaching staff currently for electives such as music, language, art and gym. This limits all students in their respective grades to participate in a certain class if one teacher is with another grade division.