Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
School renovations heat up for summer

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
July 16, 2007

VERNON - Along with the weather, school construction is heating up as the town's $68.3 million building and renovation project approved by voters two years ago is finally reaching a feverish pace.

With students and teachers gone, construction workers have moved into the schools - in particular Rockville High, Vernon Center Middle, Lake Street, and Skinner Road schools - as they race to complete as much work as they can before September.

John Leary, who heads the School Building Advisory Committee, said this week that work is well underway with a targeted end date for all construction of fall 2008.

For the most part renovations revolve around bringing the system's aging buildings up to building codes and into the 21st century, Leary said.

Boilers at six schools will be replaced and security improved, including the reconfiguration of hallways to give school staff a better view of main entrances.

The front entrance at the high school will get a major makeover and proposed security improvements will include installation of a closed-circuit television system.

Ground was broken two months ago on the centerpiece of the multi-school construction project - a new 900-seat auditorium that is being built at the rear of the high school gym.

Work at the high school also includes renovation of the school's library and media center, locker rooms, cafeteria, and parking lots. An underground oil tank also will be removed as part of the project, Leary said.

Other projects around town include an improved principal and nurses' office at Maple Street School, where the library will move from the basement to the first floor, as well as renovated art and social work areas at Skinner Road School.

Of the elementary schools, Lake Street will see the biggest change as construction calls for a new entry, principal's office, and expanded library and media center.

At the middle school, workers are busy replacing antiquated windows and updating the ventilation system for the three-story classroom wing - where air quality has long been a problem - while making limited renovations to the administration offices.

All schools are being made compliant with the American Disabilities Act, Leary said, including the bleachers on the high school playing field, which will have a wheelchair lift.

Code updates include installation of fire safety devices, such as alarms that use lights as well as sound to alert the hearing impaired.

Of the total package, school officials say that state reimbursement will cover about $34 million in construction costs. The balance is to be paid through bonding over a 26-year period beginning this year.

School officials have championed the huge renovation project, saying many of the buildings throughout town have remained untouched for more than 30 years. Sections of the high school, including the administration offices, cafeteria, and science wing, date back to 1957.

Limited work began last summer on the multi-phased project, with asbestos abatement taking place in three school buildings.

But for the first year, much of the committee's work centered on reviewing the scope of the planned renovations, developing cost estimates, and putting projects out to bid.

Estimates originally came in over $83 million, significantly more than the bond approved by voters.

Committee members worked to bring the project back into budget by scaling back some minor interior renovations and site work.

Milford-based Turner Construction has the construction management contract for the project while Jeter, Cook, & Jepson Architects Inc. of Hartford did the design work.

Leary says he hopes renovations and new construction will be completed, for the most part, by September 2008.

Until then, work goes into high gear during the summer months, and when students return to the high school this September, a choreographed ballet of sorts will commence, Leary said.

Construction work "will not interfere with students or learning," Leary said, adding that barriers will be put in place to separate students and staff from work areas, which at that time will mostly take place at the rear of the high school.

Work at all elementary schools can be completed during the summer months, with the possible exception of Lake Street School, which might redirect students to the rear entrance for a time, Leary said.

The school calendar has also been modified to fit the construction schedule - students will be returning to school later this year, getting out earlier, and have a shortened April vacation.

The return day for the 2007-08 school year is still before Labor Day on August 27 and the estimated end date, which is dependent on snow days, is scheduled for June 10, about week earlier than normal.

And instead of a week, April vacation will be more of a long weekend, with students being off only on Thursday the 24th and Friday the 25th.

February vacation and Christmas break will remain the same weeklong stretch.

For more information about the school building project or to see actual drawings and plans, visit the school system's web site,

and click on the link for the School Building Advisory Commission.

©Journal Inquirer 2007