Residents send Hinsdale vote to referendum
WINSTED — A special referendum vote on whether or not to fund a construction project to reopen Hinsdale Elementary School will be held on Saturday, Sept. 7 at Pearson school from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
On Tuesday, Sept. 3, a special town meeting was held at Pearson to discuss the referendum.
According to documents provided by the Board of Selectmen, the town is being asked to appropriate $17,425,000 for the project.
The appropriation includes $315,075 that has already been approved in the town’s Fiscal Year 2019-2020 capital improvement budget.
The town anticipates that the state will pay for $6,959,925 in grants to fund the project, which leaves the town to pay an estimated $10,465,075 for the project.
Back in 2016 the Hinsdale school building, which operated for more than 50 years, was closed by the state receiver.
The school district was under state receivership from June 2015 to August 2017.
During its more than 50 years of operation, the school building served students from second to fourth grade.
Originally, Winchester Superintendent of Schools Melony Brady-Shanley said that Hinsdale would be reopened by 2020, but at the Sept. 3 town meeting, she said that the school would reopen in fall 2021.
If reopened, Hinsdale would serve Pre-Kindergarten students to students in the second grade, which are grades currently being served by Batcheller Early Learning Center.
Superintendent makes case for reopening
In her speech to the audience of more than 60 residents, Brady-Shanley said that the school district researched whether or not to reopen Hinsdale for the past two years.
“We looked at which building would be the most cost-effective to renovate,” Brady-Shanley said. “Two years have been spent with various professionals with 29 different public hearings, forums, and meetings. One thing that was on my mind was the potential impact a project like this would have on taxpayers. The language I was hearing from people was ‘please be respectful of that.'”
Brady-Shanley said that the proposed takes into consideration “in the most conservative way where we can upgrade our building while still maintaining the smallest and minimalist effect on taxpayers because we know how important it is.”
“We are in such an upswing right now in the district, whether it is with enrollment or student performance, that we wanted to make sure that this decision was right for kids,” Brady-Shanley said. “If this referendum passes, we would be building a school to new standards for the price of a renovation rather than a price of a brand new facility. We would have a significant reimbursement rate from the state compared to renovating Batcheller.”
Brady-Shanley said that Batcheller has several safety issues, which is why the school district wants to renovate and reopen Hinsdale.
“Hinsdale is in the downtown area and it is not isolated up on top of a hill, and it is closer to emergency services,” she said.
Brady-Shanley said that, if the referendum did not pass, the renovation of Batcheller would be necessitated with limited funds from the state.
“At this point, we put as many band-aids as we possibly could on the renovation at Batcheller,” she said. “We band-aided the roof multiple times, the mechanical systems have been band-aided. There are no more band-aids in our box. There has to be a significant renovation here. Students would have to be moved out of the building during the project.”
Brady-Shanley added that the school district intends to only operate two school buildings in the district, not three.
She also added that the town would not move forward on the project without grant funding provided by the state.
“We have to have funding from the state to make this project go forward,” she said.
As for various reports on social media that enrollment in the school district is down, Brady-Shanley said that this school year the district has grown by 34 students, now up to 562 students.
“We had to add two more teachers for this school year,” she said. “Our district is now in demand. A couple of years ago, when families heard about Winchester public schools, they ran in the other direction. Now we have families coming in small droves.”
Residents speak out
At the town meeting during the public comment section, residents were split on the referendum.
One of the residents critical of the proposed project at the meeting was Stephen Kosinski.
“I think there are a lot of holes in this,” Kosinski said. “There are a lot of ifs and what-ifs. One of the things I am most concerned with is ROI, Return On Investment. That’s what every business in this country relies on. This resolution has more holes in it than you can shake a stick at. We don’t know what our return on investment will be if we go forward. I honestly don’t see a return on investment. We need to grow our grand list.”
Another resident critical of the proposed project was former Mayor Marsha Sterling.
“We already have the beautiful Pearson school and we should be looking at putting all students into one building,” Sterling said. “That was not publicly discussed and there was no analysis. I can tell you, as someone who served on the town’s School Building Committee, I know this building can accommodate all students. That is what we should be looking at, but we are not.”
In response to Sterling, Pearson School Principal Barbara Silverio, who is also a resident, strongly recommended against moving all of the school districts into one building.
“Pearson is filled to capacity,” Silverio said. “There would need to be significant renovations to this building to accommodate additional grades. I am in favor of the renovation plan as someone who has always valued education. I believe education is the foundation of future success for our children and our town.”
Another resident who voiced her support for the project was Debbie Angell.
“A couple of days ago I was notified that my son, this little kid who went through his education here, will be a colonel in the United States Marine Corps,” Angell said. “This is because of the family around here, because of his parenting, and because of his teachers and everybody around him. A child is not just going to learn in school, they’re going to learn in their community. Education is important. A good clean place to educate is kids in a healthy environment is what we need. It’s time that we move forward with school. What we are doing right now with our kids is our future, and we need to invest in their future.”