Finding places to shave space – in order to save money – in the plans for the two soon-to-be renovated Meriden high schools was a tough order for the Board of Education's Curriculum Committee Tuesday night.
The committee didn't find any curriculum changes that would let architects cut classrooms or other areas from the renovated Platt and Maloney High Schools, after being tasked by the Board of Education to take another look at the educational specifications developed previously for the two schools.
“Has the curriculum changed since we did the ed specs? The answer is ‘No.’ On the original ed specs, are there things we can change to reduce the size of the schools? The answer is ‘No,’”School Board Treasurer John Lineen said.
The board was acting on a letter from the city's School Building Committee asking the body to reexamine the educational specifications that serve as the foundation for the $210 million dual renovation project—the largest school construction project in the state.
As they currently stand, renovation plans for both high schools exceed per-pupil square footage guidelines for reimbursement from the state. Consequently, remodeling the schools could cost the city up to $40 million more than originally expected.
Both high schools are 53 years old and badly in need of a makeover, officials say. In order to qualify for more money from the state, Maloney has to shave off 35,000 square feet and Platt, 44,000 square feet from the existing plans.
The letter sent from the School Building Committee to Board of Education President Mark Hughes asked two basic questions:
1) Have any courses been removed from the curriculum since the educational specs were written that might allow space to be reduced?
2) Could other changes be made to the specs to reduce the size of the schools?
The short answer to both questions Tuesday night was: No.
“No substantial change has been made to the curriculum,” Lineen said.
A few classes are not currently being held because teachers couldn’t be found, according to Lineen. Those include an automotive class at Maloney and a health professions class at Platt. But once those teaching positions are filled, Lineen said, the classes will resume.
And course offerings may actually expand. The committee is discussing adding robotics to the middle school curriculum, which may feed into a high school robotics program.
“It only makes sense to keep what we have,” Committee Chair Irene Parisi said.
School Board Secretary Rob Kosienski asked why the Curriculum Committee was looking for ways to reduce the size of the schools.
“Our job is not to do square footage. Our job is to do square roots, so to speak,” Kosienski said.
When board member Scott Hozebin suggested that there be “at least a cursory discussion of whether there are areas that we want to change,” Kosienski replied that the Curriculum Committee had already put together an extensive report detailing what the teachers had asked for when planning for the renovations. He requested that the report be made available at a future meeting.
In addition to looking for ways to make the schools smaller, school officials are also seeking legislative solutions to the cost issues. They are working with elected officials to seek either a waiver from the square-footage-per-pupil requirements or a change in the requirements.