Stratford school district to seek $24 million in referendum
By Adam Hocking
STRATFORD — The Stratford School Board voted on Monday to ask Stratford School District taxpayers for nearly $24 million in this year’s April 5 election to help fund facility improvements to the district’s schools.
The referendum is split into two questions. The first asks voters for just under $16 million, which would fund adding five new classrooms to the middle/high school, significant remodeling to the middle/high school, and HVAC upgrades to the middle/high school and elementary school. Stratford High School and Middle School are physically attached, and the elementary school sits just across the street.
The second referendum question asks for just under $8 million and would principally focus on adding a new gymnasium and 550-seat auditorium to the middle/high school.
Stratford School District Superintendent Scott Winch said the district has held multiple listening sessions to get feedback from the public on the referendum process.
Winch said “general mechanicals” would be the most costly improvement of the entire referendum, particularly installing an upgraded HVAC system.
Winch said The HVAC upgrades are needed for “just getting everything on one page so it’s talking to each other. We have rooms that could be right next to each other — one might be 60 some degrees; the other one might be 80.”
HVAC would be the primary upgrade to the elementary school as most of the proposed improvements in the referendum would occur in the middle/high school. Beyond an HVAC upgrade, the elementary school would also undergo a light remodel of the kitchen and a heavy remodel of the special education area.
The proposed five-classroom addition to the middle/high school would create two science-focused and three general classrooms. The current science labs have “seen their days,” Winch said referring to their age.
Winch also said upgrading the middle/high school locker rooms is a need because the ventilation and showers are not adequate. There would also be “heavy remodeling” and “electrical and plumbing modifications” to several areas of the middle/high school, according to materials provided by the school district.
“Our student population is growing, and … we’re stretching everything to the limits, basically,” Winch said.
In reference to a new gymnasium, Winch noted that for all of the district’s extracurricular activities, such as sports, there are “two gyms and a cafeteria with a tile floor that are available to use.”
“It’s just been brought to the board’s attention that we could use more gym space, which, again, I believe is a need,” Winch said.
“We have, obviously, some maintenance needs, and we have some space needs. As we have a large middle school population moving into the high school, we want to make sure that we provide the facilities necessary for those students to receive the best education they can,” said Stratford School Board Vice President Chris Dickinson.
Separating the referendum into two questions, said Winch, gives voters a chance to approve some improvements even if they do not have the appetite to support both proposals.
Dickinson credited school board clerk Pam Warosh with making the point that separating the referendum gives voters a clear financial breakdown of what they are being asked to support.
In a written statement, Dickinson noted that the board wanted to avoid “an all-or-nothing choice” by lumping the whole referendum into a single $24 million ask.
“I want to make a point that the board believes both questions address needs, not wants,” Dickinson wrote. “We believe both questions can pass, otherwise we would not consider putting them both on a ballot.”
Winch said if the $16 million question is approved by voters, it would impact property owners to the tune of 99 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a person in with a $150,000 home, that would mean an increase in property taxes of $148.50 annually. If both referendum questions are approved, costing $24 million, the annual impact on property taxes for a $150,000 home would be $279, according to the district. The referendum would be applied over 20 years.
In 2009 voters approved, among other improvements, an eight-classroom addition to the middle/high school at a cost of $3.7 million, Winch said.