Menzo urges school board to choose options for future of Wallingford high schools

Menzo urges school board to choose options for future of Wallingford high schools

WALLINGFORD — The Board of Education is preparing to approach town leaders with plans for the future of the town’s two high schools, but first they have to decide what those plans are.

Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said during a BOE meeting Monday that he recommends school board leadership meet with the mayor and Town Council to determine what they believe would be the next steps.

Menzo said that he, school district business manager Dominic Barone, and school board members Karen Hlavac, Tammy Raccio and Michael Votto visited with state Bureau of Construction Services officials a couple of weeks ago.

“We were informed that they’ve kind of changed their philosophy on building projects,” he said, “actually they’ve done a 180.”

He said that when Wallingford school officials went to the state in the past, they wanted one shovel-ready project for consideration and review.

Now, state officials are suggesting that Wallingford bring whatever options the board chooses, after going to the Town Council, to have the state deliberate on which project would make the most sense for Wallingford.

Menzo said board members need to take the next step of deciding which options they’re going to bring to the Town Council.

The board is considering the long term future of Sheehan and Lyman Hall high schools, taking into consideration factors like declining enrollment, aging facilities and curriculum needs.

Although the board made some progress before the pandemic, response to COVID-19 pushed discussions to the back burner for more than a year.

Any town-wide referendum on the plans for addressing the high schools would come from the Town Council, not the Board of Education.

‘Something needs to happen’

Last month, representatives of architectural firm Silver Petrucelli presented the results of a consolidation feasibility study to the board’s operations committee, including conceptual plans for a new school on the Lyman Hall High School campus.

Options besides building a brand new high school on the Lyman Hall campus include renovating to new both schools, doing the bare minimum of work on both schools, and adding on to the existing Lyman Hall as one high school.

The town would develop educational specifications for all options, have them shovel-ready, and then bring them to the state Bureau of Construction Services to determine which one they would recommend for funding, based on state reimbursement, and other such topics, Menzo said.

Menzo recalled the process of elementary school reconfiguration — moving from eight K-5 schools to four K-2 and four 3-5 sister schools — which occurred at the start of his time in the district.

“Those weren’t fun meetings, those were very challenging meetings,” he said. “The decision was not the popular decision, but the board made a not-popular decision because they knew it was in the best interest of students … I think that’s the juncture that you’re at, as a board. Not tonight, and maybe not next month, maybe not two months from now. Maybe not until after the elections, as many people are suggesting.”

“You can’t continue to, as a town, not do something to these buildings,” he added, “and it could be maintained both of them as two high schools. That’s fine, but something needs to happen in time.

Middle school question

Board member Kathy Castelli responded to Menzo, asking about the plan for addressing the same concerns about the town’s two middle schools.

Before the pandemic, facility reconfiguration plans included renovating or possibly combining the middle schools, however after public reaction against combining, the board backed off on the middle school plan to focus on the high schools.

“I think we had always said that we should do the high schools first,” she said, “because (board member Erin Corso) had made the point about the same kids getting disrupted twice, if we did the middle schools first, and then get them to the high school and they’re disrupted again. That was a very valid point.”

She asked about going to the state about the future of the middle schools as well, because the board does want to address the middle schools eventually, after the high schools.

Menzo said the board could ask, if there was a strong enough consensus, but that the town would have to grapple whether they would want to fund that piece right now.

[email protected]: @LCTakores

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