With two regular members absent from its meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission opted to delay a vote on the $65.7 million school building project.
Gregory Lewis and Roswell Hall were absent.
PZC members are being asked to determine whether the sites where new construction is planned are consistent with the town’s plan of conservation and development.
The project is expected to be put to a referendum vote in November 2012.
The plans include -
- Renovating Mansfield Middle school at 205 Spring Hill Road.
- Building two new elementary schools, one on the Dorothy C. Goodwin Elementary School property and one at the Annie E. Vinton Elementary School site; this includes demolition of the existing buildings.
- Closing Southeast Elementary School at 134 Warrenville Road; future use of this building has not been decided.
On Monday (July 16), the commission reviewed the second referral regarding the project. In June, the PZC rejected the first referral by a vote of 6-3.
Concerns about the first referral varied.
Some PZC members claimed the wording of the rejected motion prepared by bond counsel was too specific, and didn’t focus on the sites.
Many members said they felt they were being asked to vote on the project itself, not on the locations.
Commission members were also worried about
- why the middle school was not listed as a separate project,
- traffic concerns associated with the Goodwin site,
- and the possibility better new school construction sites exist.
“We did go back with bond counsel to try to address some of those concerns,” Mansfield Planning and Development Director Linda Painter said Monday night.
However, by a unanimous vote, PZC members decided to revisit the new referral at their next meeting scheduled for Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers of the Audrey P. Beck Municipal Building, 4 South Eagleville Road (Route 275).
According to Painter, the PZC has 35 days from when it received the referral Monday to vote on it.
The Town Council has the authority to override a vote by the PZC by a two-thirds vote of the council, or six of nine votes, though council members have stated they do not intend to do so – which means that if the PZC rejects the second referral, the project may be stalled.
School officials, town officials and others working on the project, including Mansfield Town Manager Matthew Hart, Mayor Betsy Paterson, Mansfield Board of Education Chair Mark LaPlaca and Superintendent Frederick Baruzzi, were available to answer questions and present information about the project Monday.
PZC Chair Jo Ann Goodwin commented on the selected sites and asked why Southeast Elementary was chosen to be closed. “Southeast seems to be a very logical site (to build a new school),” she said, and noted that of the three locations, traffic is probably the least problematic at Southeast Elementary.
Paterson said the council reviewed the population in each district and where growth in town would occur.
She also noted the Southeast area includes various municipal properties, such as athletic fields and the Mansfield Public Library.
On the other hand, Vinton, the oldest of the three elementary schools, was chosen because there are no municipal buildings in that part of town other than the school, Paterson said.
“And that weighed heavily with people,” she said, and added many residents feel Vinton has become a “forgotten” part of town.
Hart said Goodwin School would have to be demolished because the new school site requires five acres. He added, “We do have an agreement, in principle, with a property owner to buy property adjacent to the Goodwin site.” The cost of buying the land is included in the project budget, he said.
Rick Lawrence of Lawrence and Associates, the architectural firm working on the project, said preliminary “test fits” were conducted to determine the suitability of the land at the three elementary school sites.
“We’re not saying that any of these test fits are going to be the final,” he said.
PZC member Barry Pociask said he is concerned construction will be “disruptive” to the schools, as it would be going on while school is in session. “It makes more sense to try to attack one school at a time,” he said.
If the project is approved in November, construction on the elementary schools is expected to begin in February 2015, with renovations on the middle school expected to begin in March 2016.
Based on that timetable, the two new elementary schools could be finished in September 2016 and the middle school would be finished in August 2017.
Lawrence said the town doesn’t have alternative facilities that would accommodate school children while construction is being done.
PZC member Binu Chandy asked if the majority of the construction could be done during the summer months to “avoid noise.”
“Construction projects of this nature take more than a year,” Lawrence said.
“Construction is a dirty, noisy process,” he added.
Overall project costs are estimated to be $65.7 million, with the state expected to reimburse $29.8 million and the town responsible for $35.87 million.
One or more information sessions about the project will likely be held before the council votes on the wording of the referendum questions, which has to be done 60 days before the Nov. 6 referendum.
Council members are expected to make this decision by Sept. 4.
Posted July 17, 2012 as edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan
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