Since settling on two sites for two new schools months ago, there’s been little sign of any progress on the $120 million project.
“Things are stagnant right now,” said Cheryl Thibault, a Board of Finance member who serves on the Forestville School Building Committee.
Mayor Art Ward said that it takes time to negotiate the land purchases necessary for the plan to build two new kindergarten to eighth grade schools to move ahead.
“We’re in the initial, preliminary stages,” the mayor said. “We’re going through the process.”
Officials are eyeing the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street and a former sand pit operated by Scalia Construction off Barlow Street as potential sites for the 900-student schools.
The Board of Education had hoped to open one as soon as 2010, but it appears that even 2012 is looking optimistic at this point. Because of the massive redistricting involved in closing four existing schools and opening two new ones, educators would prefer to have both schools done at once.
Though city officials are saying it in public, they admit privately they’re content to let things drag a bit because of the hardship of coming up with the cash during a recession, particularly when so many residents have seen their property tax bills soar already.
Constructing the new schools would add about half a mill to the property tax rate even though the state is likely to pay about 70 percent of the overall tab.
Thibault said that she would like to see her state taxes used to help put up new schools in Bristol instead of paying to erect them in other towns.
She said that new buildings would help attract the young families that can bolster the community instead of the absentee landlords who have been snatching up rental property in recent years and perhaps contributing to the city’s decay.
“Invest in our community,” Thibault told city councilors recently.
Rookie city Councilor Cliff Block said that without new schools “nobody will want to live here.”
Ward said the city can’t proceed any faster than it is.
“There’s nothing you can do but wait,” he told Thibault.
The chairman of the city’s Real Estate Committee, city Councilor Frank Nicastro, said that his panel would have to approve any land purchases for schools before deals can be struck.
“But nothing’s been brought to us,” Nicastro said.
It’s not clear how much bargaining has been going on behind the scenes between the city and either Crowley or Scalia. A number of officials have expressed concern that the Scalia site in particular won’t work out because the owner wants too much money for it.
The long-term plan calls for closing Memorial Boulevard Middle School and three older elementary schools – O’Connell, Greene-Hills and Bingham.
Students in the other two middle schools, at Northeast and Chippens Hill, would not switch to a K-8 system when the new schools open, educators have said.
Instead, they said, there would be a dual system in Bristol for at least a few years.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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