HUUSD again considering seventh- and eighth-grade consolidation

  • Published in News

After the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board dismissed the idea of a consolidated middle school option in October, the option to move all seventh- and eighth- graders to Crossett Brook Middle School (CBMS) is back on the table. The move could happen as soon as this fall.

At the January 16 meeting, members of the executive facilities committee (EFC), comprised of board members, administrators, Bert DeLaBruere of ReArch and Dave Epstein of TruexCullins Architects, explained their continued work visioning an upgraded high school, including potentially consolidating the Harwood Union and Crossett Brook middle schools.

In October, school board members voted to take no action with the four middle school options. Three were at the Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS) school area and/or additions onto the existing building, and one where all seventh- and eighth-graders move to CBMS for a designated middle school. The price tag on this project ranged from a low $8 million to an estimated $17,471,489.

At the most recent school board meeting, the EFC asked the board to consider a motion to determine whether CBMS can house the HUMS students and to cost that out. EFC committee members said that the renovations at Harwood may require moving students out of existing classrooms. Voters will be asked to vote on a $20 million bond for that renovation work in June. The renovations include a new roof, HVAC, windows and other updates.

The EFC members suggested looking into moving all the seventh- and eighth-grade students to CBMS without any renovation. At last week’s meeting, Superintendent Brigid Nease said that with the space at CBMS currently, the district could move students and staff around to accommodate. Along with that, on a “back of the napkin” estimate, by moving all seventh and eighth grades to CBMS, the move could potentially save the district $13 million.

SAVE $800,000 TO $1 million

Nease explained her back-of-the-napkin calculations and said that by implementing this idea it would save the district between $800,000 and $1 million yearly in operational costs from cutting a principal, administrator, guidance counselor and multiple teachers. Additionally, she said that if the 31,000 square feet at Harwood that houses the middle school could be repurposed for the HUHS bond rather than building new square footage or housing middle-schoolers, there could be a savings of $200 to $300 per square foot (compared to the costs of building new). That could save the district $6.2 million to $9.3 million on the full bond amount, she said.

Nease reminded the board that under one of the four middle school options considered this fall, one had all middle-schoolers at CBMS with $4 million in renovations. She said that renovation work could be reduced by half or more if all students could be accommodated there.

“If the $8.2 million CBMS bond portion of the original options could be removed altogether or significantly reduced by using a minimum perspective on the build rather than an expansion of a state of the art 2021 middle school, I estimated that you could cut that in half, and just build one more wing of four classrooms and possibly two bathrooms, saving $4.2 million,” said Nease via email.

MOVING CLASSROOMS

In the EFC report, construction at Harwood would involve moving classrooms in the school for easier navigation to departments. Currently, Harwood has classrooms for the same department spread out over different wings of the school instead of near one another.

The committee deemed it prudent to look into the possible relocation of seventh- and eighth-graders at Harwood to CBMS to offset any construction going on at Harwood. The committee came before the board to ask if the students could fit into CBMS's current configuration with the fifth- and sixth-graders.

The committee was also asked to figure out the cost savings of the operational expenses if all the seventh- and eighth-graders were together.

"We all want what is best for the students in our district. We just need to be mindful of our taxpayers so they know we are completing our due diligence and spending their money wisely," said Warren representative and committee member Rosemarie White.

Waterbury’s Alex Thomsen added that looking into alternative options was what the committee was tasked with after board members voted down all four middle school options in October 2018.

NOT BACK DOOR

"I just want to be clear we are not trying to ‘back door’ anything. We are trying to return to the high school, which has the middle school a part of it that we can't pretend doesn't exist, and decide what to do with the middle school, and the only way to do that is consider all the options,” said Thomsen.

Thomsen said that this was just an option and that the committee is still gathering general information about finances.

There was additional discussion of the value of absorbing middle school square footage for the high school in light of enrollment projects for the school district. (See related graph on this page.)

Asked if the seventh- and eighth-graders could fit into CBMS as it stands now, Superintendent Nease plainly answered yes.

Nease said CBMS currently has four classrooms that have been repurposed, two world languages, a special education room and a room dedicated to the Y. Nease said that if board members decided to add the HUMS students to CBMS, they could make three separate teams (currently CBMS has two that are under capacity) with 100 students per team.

The board accepted the recommendation with an amendment to ask Superintendent Nease to put initial calculations of what the administration already knows in writing to help the EFC determine next steps.

Previously, school board members and the administrative team found it difficult to find over $180,000, and could not fathom a $600,000 cut to the FY18 budget without cutting school programs and more staff. A temporary fix to the problem was offering a retirement incentive package to long-term teachers in the district and lowering the requirement of 20 years of service to 15. To date, the admin team has accepted six retirement requests.