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Rocky Hill High School Renovation in Voters’ Hands

A June referendum will determine the fate of the proposed $45 million high school project.

In less than two months, residents here will know whether the  will become 11,700 square feet larger than it is today.

, the Town Council unanimously sent the $45 million question of whether to renovate and expand the 30-year-old school to the voters, asking them to decide the project's future at a June 5 town-wide referendum.

The state is expected to reimburse the town about 44 percent of the project's costs, leaving taxpayers here to pay the remaining $28.55 million. The referendum question will include the cost of the separate water boiler for the pool ($64,014) and the addition of 60 parking spaces to the school ($230,452) for total of about $295,000.

At the Deputy Mayor Timothy Moriarty supported adding the parking spaces and the pool water boiler as well as replacing the ($230,452) and five tennis courts ($320,072). However, he said he received several phone calls and emails over the past few days from residents who said the cost of the renovation was too high and they would not support the referendum.

“I don’t want to see this project fail,” said Moriarty, who got visibly upset throughout the meeting. “I don’t want to make a motion that makes this whole project fail.”

Councilor Frank Szeps said that having the boiler closer to the pool will be more efficient and will lead to savings for the town.

“As for the parking lot, I don’t have to say anything,” Szeps said.

Resident Frank Simboski told those in attendance that he thinks they need at least 3,000 votes to get the referendum to pass and demanded that people take action over the next six weeks to get them.

“It’s not going to happened, if we just assume it will,” Simboski said.

Many councilors said that they would help with acquiring voters who support the project and getting them to the polls on June 5. 

“I support this referendum and I am going to work as hard as I can to get votes,” said Councilor Larrye deBear. Mayor Anthony LaRosa agreed to help as well.

“We can’t correct the past,” he said. “But we can fix the future.”

LaRosa said they needed support from the largest voting group in town, the senior citizens. Some seniors in attendance said that it was time to “pay it forward” and support the referendum because someone paid for their education.

One of the people leading the charge to get more voters in support of the project is “Stay Accredited” Chairman Todd Cusano. The political action committee  made it its mission to garner enough support from residents to pass any referendum question that keeps the high school accredited and addresses the  He said the referendum is more than a school problem, it is a town issue. 

“People from all across town have come together to do something about the high school,” Cusano said. He added that it is “a critical time in the town’s history” and not passing the referendum could affect real estate, the business community and population.

More than 25 parents, residents, seniors and students came to the podium during the one and half hour public hearing to show their support for the project. Many people told the council that they chose to raise their families in Rocky Hill because of the school system.

“Let’s make Rocky Hill a place to move to, not a town to move away from,” said Lisa Brady, mother of two children.

Many parents also informed the council that they had taken their children out of the school system because of failing building conditions. All residents in town still have to pay for those students to attend magnet schools in the area.

An activist group of about 20 students came in support of the referendum and explained the struggles that they face on a daily basis. They explained how students would benefit from many of the items in the NEASC report, such as the HVAC system, chemistry labs, textbooks and ADA standards, being addressed.

“Our goal is to promote the student voice on this issue,” said group organizer James Wang. He explained that no one in his group would ever get to experience the changes in the school.

“It just goes to show how committed we feel to this issue and how we feel responsible to provide a better community for our brothers and sisters,” Wang said.

Many of the council members told the crowd of more than 300 people that they felt the town would pass this referendum because it focuses on the needs in the NEASC report. One of those councilors was Joe Kochanek, who did not support the previous referendums because they were too vague, complex and expensive.

“This time you did a fantastic job,” he told the public and Board of Education. “This thing needs to get done.”

Councilor Nadine Bell said the cost of project is a huge consideration for many of the residents in town. She added that cost of not doing the project outweighs the cost of actually doing the renovation of the high school.

“This is our community building,” Bell said.

Jaclyn Farnham May 18, 2012 at 08:46 PM
I would love to invest in the schools and for the most part I am for the renovations, however, I don't trust this Town Management one bit. This Town has been mismanaged for years..hence the state we are in. If we booted the main problem, I would feel more comfortable supporting this initiative. I have a child in high school, though, and I don't think its fair to ask every citizen to contribute as much. With the new low income houseing planned on Brook Street, we will be paying for a lot more less fortunate kids to attend our schools. This is what they are really planning for. Let the developers subsidize - this mismanaged Town would never think to negotiate that. They make millions and we are all struggling.
Carm May 20, 2012 at 02:21 AM
I agree with you jan, our children are the future and without a high school that is accredited , it doesn't matter how great their grades are they won't be accepted to a good college. And that I will not stand for. So I have to pay another town to teach my kids !!! I don't think so, stop being selfish and help our kids !!!
Nate May 26, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Why does the school need to renovated as new? What i would like to see is the list of problems that need to be fixed to keep the accreditation and the prices to solve these problems. Is there really a need for 5 more culinary labs? A vote no does not mean a loss of accreditation, it just means that the town needs to think of a different plan, such as just fixing the problems affecting the accreditation. They could also plan renovations the way my school in West Hartford does it: renovate a part of the school each year. For example, last year my school renovated all the classrooms in one hallway, this year they are renovating the auditorium. This plan is not the smartest way to go. From reading this thread however, i think the most important thing you need to realize is that you do not need to completely "renovate as new" to keep the accreditation. Another thing to point out is that just because the school is new and fancy that does not mean the test scores and college acceptances will improve.
Pete Doll May 29, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Nate, the point of renovating as new is to take advantage of state funds. to fix just the "accreditation" issues would cost about 10-12 million and there would be no state aid. Then we would be left with a 33 year old school and all the issues that go with it. To fix as new, we will get as much state money we are allowed and set the high school up for thirty years which is the best plan for tax payers dollars. for instance, the parking lot is not on the accrediation list yet it still needs repair. Why not get the state to pitch in?
Harry May 29, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Pete, take advantage of state funds??? Ok, so it will cost the town 12 Million to fix the issues, but instead you want to spend 10 more MILLION that the town residents will be responsible for in order to get 23 MILLION from the state, which by the way, WE ALL LIVE IN and are responsible for as well. This is a complete and utter joke. So for the next 15 to 20 years are taxes cost us $250 + more a year, and to put that in perspective, you are raising our taxes a $1000+ every 4 years compared to what we pay today. This does not include any budget increases. This is not right. no way I can vote yes for this, completely unfair and I hope residents are paying close attention to this and are not being bullied into a yes vote. Vote no or watch your taxes skyrocket and force you to move. No one will want to live here

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