Five Norwalk elementary schools moved one step closer to being expanded to ease overcrowding when the Board of Education voted 8-1 Tuesday night in favor of a $4 million capital budget request for 2011-12. The budget is part of a $30 million five-year plan that would expand Cranbury, Rowayton, Naramake, Jefferson and Columbus. The plan also includes funds to install air conditioning in all the elementary schools, upgrade technology, repair asphalt and concrete, and make other needed infrastructure improvements.
School board Chair Jack Chiaramonte described the expansion and repairs as necessary. "This plan reprioritizes our needs," he said. "These are things we have to do."
The initial $4 million approved will begin the planning and design phase of construction for Naramake, Cranbury and Rowayton. Groundbreaking would occur in 2012-13. "Each year the budget will be brought back to the board," said Dan Cook, the districts' interim chief operating officer. "Each year we will be adjusting the budget based on the previous year."
Steve Colarossi, the school board's finance committee chair, said the plan was "based on a study conducted by experts." Board member Glenn Iannaccone reminded the board that Rowayton's auditorium isn't large enough to accommodate the school population.
The lone dissenter , board member Sue Haynie, questioned the timing, pointing to the poor state of the economy and conflicting enrollment trends. District schools are "overused and underused," she said. Haynie spoke of the possibility of a new charter school in South Norwalk, and the state's inability to provide capital reimbursement. She also expressed dismay that Jefferson "has been waiting a long time."
Of the decision to delay Jefferson's expansion plans a year, Colarossi said, "We need to spend the next year looking closely at the best possible model for Jefferson." Currently, the school is both a magnet and neighborhood school.
Mayor Richard Moccia, an ex-officio board member, said the state might not provide its usual 33 percent reimbursement on school construction projects, which could change the city's ability to fund them. Nevertheless, he said, "We can't stop the planning. We can always readjust."
Board member Jodi Bishop-Pullan said, "It is the job of the BOE to make sure that our schools have adequate facilities. We need to move forward with this."
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