The Board of Education will have to determine the direction of programs at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and New London High School as it moves toward a proposal to transition the New London Public Schools to an all magnet school district.
On Thursday, the board received a future use study regarding BDJMS and heard suggestions from Dr. Steven Adamowski, a special master assigned to the district, on the possible magnet options at the high school. Adamowski said the board must come to a consensus on issues such as grade configuration and renovations at the high school to prepare for these changes.
Middle school options
A study by Friar Associates identified four options for the use of BDJMS in a magnet school model:
- Creating a pre-K through eighth grade school with a theme to be determined, with modifications to the elementary schools to support the new use
- Converting BDJMS to a smaller high school while NLHS hosts a magnet for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and arts
- Using BDJMS as a single theme magnet school for grades 6-12 and creating a dual theme magnet high school at NLHS
- Forming a magnet middle school for grades 6-8 to house STEM, arts, and dual language academies with core learning in a traditional middle school setting
The report concludes that the last option is “by far the most constructible, financially feasible approach.” It says it is also the best approach to meet the district’s goal to create K-12 pathways along magnet subjects.
The report gives estimates of $34,313,044.73 to adopt the option through code compliance and alterations and $63,395,756.87 to do so by renovating as new. The estimated cost to New London would be $14,470,864.57 in the former plan and $26,556,423.26 in the latter.
Secretary Jason Catala said the board should consider costs for other models as well, particularly the 6-12 option. Mike Sorano, of Friar Associates, said the other options were “significantly” more expensive. Adamowski said the study also considered other factors, including the likelihood that New London’s bonding capability will be strained by an effort to make renovations to NLHS.
“The city is not in the position where it can do unlimited bonding or a lot of bonding in the future. That has to be the priority,” said Adamowski.
Adamowski said the board should determine the grade configuration in the district as a way of assisting with the process, as K-8 and other models have been pitched to the board. He said there is also the possibility of reducing the number of magnet programs at the middle school to two to further reduce costs and needed renovations.
Board member Bill Morse said he was concerned that asbestos and PCB remediation could lead to unexpected costs during renovations.
“I want to rest assured that there is no other option for renovation to this building that we can avoid tapping into these areas that are toxic,” he said.
Morse also suggested that public input is needed to see which option the community prefers. President Margaret Curtin said the board will gather input on the topic and discuss it further at its Feb. 28 meeting.
High school options
Adamowski said the State Bond Commission has approved the funds necessary for the design phase of NLHS renovations. He said this will necessitate the School Building and Maintenance Committee to put out a request for proposals from architects soon, and that this in turn will serve as an impetus for determining the programs at the high school since different programs will require different designs.
Adamowski said a STEM program already exists at the Science and Technology Magnet High School and an arts program could be established in collaboration with the Garde Arts Center and Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication.
Adamowski said the high school renovation should encompass at least two additional areas and suggested three possibilities for programs: sports medicine, language and international commerce, or a military academy.
“This is a military town,” said Adamowski. “You have proximity to two academies of the military here, the Coast Guard and the Navy, and you have a very successful ROTC program.”