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Building plans, merger mulled

Lyndeborough residents question board’s timeline

  • Members of the School Board met with key community members to discuss proposed renovations to the Florence Rideout Elementary School and Lyndeborough Central School.
  • Members of the School Board met with key community members to discuss proposed renovations to the Florence Rideout Elementary School and Lyndeborough Central School.
  • Members of the School Board met with key community members to discuss proposed renovations to the Florence Rideout Elementary School and Lyndeborough Central School.
  • Members of the School Board met with key community members to discuss proposed renovations to the Florence Rideout Elementary School and Lyndeborough Central School.
  • Members of the School Board met with key community members to discuss proposed renovations to the Florence Rideout Elementary School and Lyndeborough Central School.
  • Members of the School Board met with key community members to discuss proposed renovations to the Florence Rideout Elementary School and Lyndeborough Central School.
  • Members of the School Board met with key community members to discuss proposed renovations to the Florence Rideout Elementary School and Lyndeborough Central School.

WILTON — The Wilton School Board will be spending the next seven weeks distributing information to inform the public of the details of a plan to consolidate the Wilton and Lyndeborough Elementary Schools. In March, the district will ask the voters to approve a $8.2 million, 30-year bond to renovate Lyndeborough Central School to transform it into a combined SAU office and kindergarten and preschool facility. The changes at Wilton’s Florence Rideout would be even bigger, tearing down a one-story addition put on the school in the 1950s, and adding a three story addition.

In a work session Tuesday, the Board met with representatives from Select Boards in both towns, as well as other town representatives, to speak to the process they will be following in educating the public.

Project construction would take 18 months, and would start in the fall of 2014. School would continue at Florence Rideout, and students at Lyndeborough Central School would continue at that building until summer 2015. During that summer, the renovations to change the school into a SAU and early learning classrooms would be completed and ready for a fully consolidated elementary school system in fall 2015. The exterior of the Lyndeborough Central School would not change much, said architect Kyle Barker at Tuesday’s meeting. In the interior, the newly constructed kindergarten classroom would remain as is, and two other classrooms would be similarly remodeled for kindergarten classrooms. Two other classrooms would have a wall removed to create a single, large preschool space.

At Florence Rideout, the removal of the 1950 addition would expose the portion of the school built in 1895, which is actually in better shape, said Barker. The addition would use brick to match the existing school. A clear entrance would be created, and multiple safety code issues would be addressed. Florence Rideout is in need of several major renovations, but most are located in the 1950 wing, which would be destroyed, and the rest would be addressed in the other renovations.

How to pay for it

Boette questioned whether Lyndeborough residents would be willing to put money into Florence Rideout, pointing out that Lyndeborough Central School does not have the same facility issues that Florence Rideout has. The plan to consolidate was facilitated by looming renovation costs at Florence Rideout, said Boette. While Wilton residents may be willing to support the idea as an alternative to pouring money into renovations of the school, Lyndeborough does not have those issues.

School Board Vice Chair Harry Dailey said those facts had been taken into account in the calculation of bond payments. Bond payments from each town would be based on the cost savings each town experienced as a result of the consolidation, he told Boette. Lyndeborough’s cost savings is estimated to be around $100,000 annually. Anything above that in terms of payment of the bond would be paid by Wilton, which would potentially save Wilton $349,000 annually in district costs. Wilton would also save an additional $200,000 annually, as a result of avoiding the needed repairs and renovations at Florence Rideout.

When what Wilton likely would pay for renovations in the coming years is factored in, consolidating would actually result in a tax savings for both towns, said Dailey.

Enrollments in both schools has been on a downward trend, with 67 students at Lyndeborough and 247 students at Florence Rideout at the start of the school year, including preschool and kindergarten students.

James Button, a School Board member from Lyndeborough, said that he believes once Lyndeborough residents understand the numbers, and the potential benefits that come with a larger school, they will be more willing to consolidate.

“I’ve never seen Lyndeborough jumping on this,” he said. “But when you look at the savings, and the fact that you can pay for the addition from your cost avoidance, people are going to say, ‘Maybe we should consider this,’” said Button.

“If we want to reap the financial and educational benefits of consolidation, something like this has to happen,” said Dailey.

Part of the cost savings are in eliminating teaching and administrative positions once the grades are integrated. Those teachers who would have been retiring that year or moving to another district would not be replaced, and the rest of the layoffs would be done on a basis of a combination of years in the district and performance.

Dailey said that if the warrant articles to consolidate the elementary schools and/or enter a bond to pay for the addition and renovations fails, the School Board will likely have a backup warrant requesting funds to continue repairs on Florence Rideout. That’s not ideal, he said, because it’s an investment that the district cannot get back should a consolidation move forward in the future.

Timing

The School Board has a challenge in front of it if it hopes to get a warrant article proposing a consolidation of the two elementary schools, plus a $8.2 million bond to put an addition onto Florence Rideout Elementary School, said Lyndeborough Select Board Chair Kevin Boette at the meeting. Particularly, he said, the School Board had not left enough time to adequately inform the public about the plan.

“This was news to me five weeks ago,” said Boette. “And if it was news to a Select Board member, I think in March you’re going to have 50 percent of people who are going to be hearing it for the first time.”

Lyndeborough resident Bob Rogers was also skeptical that the movement would gain ground in Lyndeborough. “You’ll have the ones that think it’s too much money vote no; the ones that don’t want to send their little darlings to Wilton, they’ll vote no; the ones that think the status quo is just fine will vote no. Add up those votes, and it’ll sink like a stone,” he said. “I think you’re going to have to consider this year a dress rehearsal for 2015.”

School Board Vice Chair Harry Dailey noted that the School Board is aware of how big of a challenge they have in front of them. Within the next week, the board will have created a Powerpoint with a voiceover presentation, which they plan to post on the district’s website, and present to Select Boards, Budget Committees and others throughout both towns to allow for maximum conversation on the subject. The School Board will also provide an opportunity for residents to email questions or comments on the warrant.

Benefits

Boette asked what the benefits are educationally to consolidating the schools. He pointed out that two years ago, Wilton did not make adequate yearly progress, while Lyndeborough did.

Tim O’Connell, the principal for both elementary schools, answered that while Lyndeborough Central has historically tested at a higher level than Florence Rideout Elementary students, the numbers are still comparable. In the past few years, there has been much done to streamline the curriculum at both schools so that both systems are the same. Also, at Florence Rideout, Lyndeborough students would have access to Title I and additional special education facilities, a gym, art and music room, he added. Plus, the additional children means there will be enough of a population to incorporate programs, such as a school band or sports team, should there be the desire.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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