A new school district awaits a new year

SOUTHWICK – This past year became a historic one for Southwick, Tolland and Granville when Granville joined the Southwick-Tolland Regional School District.
All three towns overwhelmingly approved the addition in three separate Special Town Meetings in early October. Approval of the new regional district is significant because the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) promised if Granville joined the district, it would consider projects at the high school, Powder Mill Middle School, and Woodland Elementary School as one project. This promise comes with hefty incentives from the MSBA, to the tune of nearly $20 million.
This past fall, the Southwick School Building Committee (SBC) presented the current schematic design for school renovations at the town’s three schools. Project Manager Jonathan Winikut and Greg Smolley, of JCJ Architects, presented the design
Smolley gave an overview of the work at each school. Woodland would remain an elementary school, becoming a school for students in pre-kindergarten through grade two. Powder Mill would become an intermediate school for grades three through six, and STRHS would become a grade seven-12 school.
Smolley said the footprint of Woodland would remain the same, including parking lots and drop-off areas.
“Parking is working and bus parking is working,” Smolley said.
Smolley said the building, which was built in the 1950’s with additions in the 60’s and 90’s, is solid, and meets education expectations.
It does need some work to meet codes and will receive replacement windows and mechanical upgrades to be more in line with the high school.
Powder Mill, said Smolley, is in need of the most upgrades. He said all mechanical systems must be replaced. Windows will also be replaced with operational windows with sun shade for better efficiency and cooling on hot days.
“In this building, it’s probably easier to talk about what doesn’t need to be upgraded,” said Smolley.
A second story on a portion of the building has no handicap accessibility; however, Smolley said the staircase meets code, which makes it easier to deal with.
“The building is past the end of its life, but it’s built so well,” Smolley said.
A member of the audience asked if it made more sense to “start from scratch” and build a new school instead of renovate.
Smolley said that would be more costly than making improvements.
At STRHS, the plans call for an addition for grades seven and eight at the front of the building and another addition for grades nine- 12 at the rear of the existing building.
Administrative offices would be moved near the front entrance, as well as the nurse’s office and guidance counselors. Improvements to the locker rooms are being revisited because the committee asked JCJ to cut costs of renovations there by 50 percent.
In every school, students would be separated by grades, so they could work in teams, and every school would have more space for special education and administrative work areas.
The total project is estimated at $69.5 million with potential reimbursement from the MSBA of $40.3 million. The net cost to the regional school district is just under $30 million.

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