East Lyme - Schools Superintendent James Lombardo said Friday that the closing of Niantic Center School is just one of three possibilities identified by a committee of more than two dozen people that looked into the town's deteriorating elementary schools.
If the Board of Education votes to approve this option, he added, the other two elementary schools in town - Flanders and Lillie B. Haynes - would be renovated extensively and possibly expanded.
Speaking during the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut's "State of East Lyme," Lombardo said the alternatives include the renovation of all three schools as new or the closing of all three buildings and the construction of a new elementary school complex at a different site.
"Architects are putting together estimates on the three options, which range from the simplest to ... the most sublime," Lombardo told the about 75 attendees at the Town Hall gathering.
Niantic Center is the oldest school in town and the one most in need of repairs, according to Lombardo. It would require the replacement of all its windows, many of which have rotted casements and plastic liners to keep out the drafts. But he said all of the school system's elementary schools are in need of work, ranging from aesthetic problems such as mismatched tiles in bathrooms to structural concerns such as brick exteriors separating from building structures.
Lombardo said he expects to hold community forums near the beginning of the next school year to outline school problems and solicit comments from students, staff and parents about which option is most palatable. By then, he expects to have firm estimates on the cost of each option, he said.
The school board ultimately will have to decide how it wants to proceed, but any option likely would be voted on at referendum.
"We know we have to do something," Lombardo said. "There is no plan to discontinue any school at this point."
The town also has been doing something about its programs for those requiring alternative education, he reported, reducing typical costs of $25,000 to $30,000 per pupil to about $18,000 per pupil. At the same time, attendance among this population has increased from 50 percent to 97 percent - better than for the rest of the school population, he said.
The town also has been saving money, according to First Selectman Paul Formica. Formica said East Lyme has kept its average budget increase just above 1 percent annually over the past four years. In addition, $2.5 million has been restored to the town's rainy-day fund over the same period, he said.
A referendum on the current town budget proposal - a 1.4 percent increase over this year's expenditures - will be held from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 14 at the East Lyme Community Center and East Lyme High School.