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BROOKFIELD March date set for vote on $78.1M school project

January 16, 2019

BROOKFIELD — The referendum on the $78.1 million proposal to build a new Huckleberry Hill Elementary School is officially set for March.

Residents voted nearly unanimously Tuesday night at a special town meeting to hold the referendum on March 5, after hearing a presentation from the architect and town officials on the plan.

The new, nearly 139,000-square-foot school would be built on the existing Huckleberry Hill campus and cost the town $63.3 million if Brookfield receives the state grant it plans to apply for.

At least 50 residents attended the meeting in the high school auditorium, and the handful who spoke, said they supported the project.

“I like particularly that it suggests a new building, allowing you to design it for much more educational activity than is currently available in old buildings,” resident Betsy McIlvaine said.

The school would serve pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, combining Huckleberry Hill and Center elementary schools, while bringing fifth-graders down from the middle school.

At the most expensive point, the project would cost the average homeowner an additional $367 in taxes in 2023. After that, taxes would decrease.

The elementary buildings are in such rough shape it would take more than $20 million over the next 10 years just to keep them functional, the school board has said.

An architect’s study found both schools have numerous deficiencies, including HVAC, plumbing and other building systems that are at or past their useful life.

The 81-year-old Center Elementary is the only completely wooden school building in the state and its windows and walls are in poor condition, among other problems. The 58-year-old Huckleberry Hill’s failings include poor energy efficiency and a lack of accessibility for the handicapped.

Two residents suggested the referendum be held later, possibly in May when residents vote on next fiscal year’s budget. But First Selectman Steve Dunn said the referendum had to be held in March so there is enough time to complete the application for the state grant by June 30.

If the town misses the grant deadline, the project would be delayed a year and less state funding could be available, Dunn said.

“We’ll still have to build a school and we’ll get less from the state,” he said.

The district had considered several other options, including renovating the existing Huckleberry Hill school for $69.6 million. But that would double construction time and would not provide the same perks as a new school, officials have said.

Benefits of the proposed school include hubs for each of the grades, with the layout of the building promoting the transition between each of the grades, architect Jeff Wyszynski said. The new school would be safer because of the car and bus traffic pattern, among other reasons.

School officials predict saving $400,000 annually with a new school because of energy efficiency and staff consolidation.

The district could demolish the old portable classrooms for fifth-graders at Whisconier Middle School. Replacing those portables would cost $700,000.

The town has not figured out exactly how the Center school building would be used, but officials have said meetings or other community programs could be held.

With voter approval, construction would begin in the fall of 2020, with students moving into the new building in fall of 2022. The old Huckleberry Hill school would then be torn down.

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