Branford will in 2015 be making some far-reaching decisions regarding a new senior center as well as considerations for improvements on our intermediate school. Each of these projects can be viewed as separate and unrelated with expectations for traditional building processes in place, or we can choose to take a different approach.
As I view the landscape town-wide, I ask the question: Is there some way to bundle things so that our community might reap a greater outcome for our investment? What are the needs versus what are our resources? I want to share my own vision for meeting those needs within a framework of a bolder strategic plan.
I'll begin with Walsh Intermediate School. Walsh was built at a time when open space was considered a desirable commodity in a school building. We now realize that space alone isn't the most important element in a successful school setting. Many have complained about the lack of individual classroom space as well as the need to modernize the school's interior space.
The senior center is also recognized as a facility that hasn't met the test of time. It's inadequate and inaccessable for some, and the physical plant needs a total overhaul. During the recent public discussion sessions regarding a new facility, many spoke in favor of a more integrated community space rather than a facility that would isolate the senior adults from other community groups.
Sliney School has a long, proud history as the first town high school. It's an iconic building in the center of town and holds fond memories for many local residents who were students there. It's a beautiful building, but it doesn't function well as an elementary school. Bringing Sliney into the 21st century would require a significant investment.
Our Community House recently celebrated a 50th anniversary. Is that facility ready to meet the needs of the emerging generation looking for a community facility that will provide a different menu of offerings?
If we look at the list-Walsh, Sliney, the Community House, and senior center-and try to imaging how these facilities might be remedied, is it possible to think of combining some of them into a more unified, more accessable, more usable community facility that would perhaps also mediate the cost of it all?
Suppose Walsh were refitted to become a combined senior- and community center. The open space would easily convert into activity and meeting rooms, and the gym and pool would be available throughout the day for the entire community. The adjacent fields would be far superior to the space now used at the Community House. The gym and locker rooms would serve the community, and the common room would serve as a community venue for small productions. Kitchen facilities are already there and could be put into use for community functions. We would then be able to concentrate on building a new Walsh on property that the town already owns. Why not think about a combined Sliney/Walsh?
Many towns are looking at a K-8 configuration-why not Branford? Lower enrollment predictions mean that a new facility could be smaller and less costly. The financial plus to this plan is that new school construction is reimbursable by the state, while the cost of any other new facility would be borne by the town.
These are just rough ideas that I believe are worthy of consideration before we commit to separate building projects. A new community center at Walsh could be an outstanding community resource, perhaps with some other town departments reassigned there. The Board of Education central office might even consider moving into such a facility. Meanwhile, Sliney might be a very desirable location for some private development, such as additional senior housing.
A new school would be in the best interests of our students and our future, and a new community center would bring us into a 21st-century facility that would serve the entire community. Is this something worth considering? I believe it is.
Frank Carrano is the immediate past chair of the Branford Board of Education.