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Windham school bond to appear on March ballot

WINDHAM - After hearing from a handful of the 40 or so people attending Friday night's public hearing, the School Board agreed to bring forward a $31 million school construction bond to the March ballot.

School budget issues will be debated next month during the Feb. 8 School Deliberative Session. Article 2, which requires a 60-percent majority vote in order to pass, is being proposed to cover the construction of a new middle school on London Bridge Road (near the high school) for the town's seventh- and eighth-graders, as well as a new multi-purpose turf field and complex at Windham High School.

The field project accounts for $1.9 million of the bond, with the remaining to go towards the new school facility.

If passed, construction on both projects would begin this spring, with the field to be completed in August. The new school would open in August 2014, School Board member Mike Joanis said.

Longtime resident Margaret Case said she's in favor of the item.

"I think it's the prudent thing to do," she told the Board on Friday night, noting that rejecting the item could ultimately cost the district more in the long run. "It's time we take the responsibility, build a school and properly house our students."

Windham enrollments are expected to decrease at the elementary school next year, with around 40 fewer children anticipated. But school officials are expecting steady increases at the middle and high schools, with 50 more middle school students and 20 more high school students expected next year.

"The bond is intended to address cost impact and the project's timeline," Joanis said, noting that the current middle school is over capacity by approximately 700 students. The new, 87,000-square-foot facility would offer classroom space for up to 500 students and core space for 900 students, including a full cafeteria and gymnasium, plus plenty of room to build additional classroom space, should it be necessary in the future. A new middle school would provide an immediate solution to the district's overall crowding problem in grades first through eighth, and would allow the district to meet necessary curriculum requirements in science, technology and family/consumer science, Joanis said.

"Basically we have more teams than we have team space," he said of the bond item's second component. "This year, we also have some safety concerns on the high school athletic fields and the state won't allow us to host playoffs there, due to those concerns."

One parent wondered if the middle school would be large enough to accommodate projected student increases in the coming years. Asked if additional expansions would be necessary, in general, the answer was a likely "yes."

"I think there will be more coming, but that's a good ways down the road," Rekart told him. And there's always the possibility that Article 2 won't pass this spring, meeting the fate of a similar item that was shot down by residents last year.

"Even if it doesn't pass, we're under obligation to fix whatever we can," Rekart said. "Having students studying out in the hallways just isn't acceptable. There's no question that having too many children in a room has an impact on learning. If we don't do anything, we're going to be looking at 41 students in our middle school classes."

"We've already exploited every single space possible," Board Vice Chairman Michelle Farrell added. "But if this doesn't happen, we still have to find a place for every student who's enrolled here."

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