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ACSD seeks input on schools’ space needs

MIDDLEBURY —Addison Central School District residents in 2016 took the major step of consolidating their educational governance structure from eight boards to one. District leaders argued the move would lead to more efficient and less costly delivery of public education.
Two years later, ACSD officials are preparing a “facilities master plan” that could further reduce district expenses and offer better educational opportunities.
“The ACSD board has recognized the enrollment challenges facing the district and wants to be deliberate in the investigation and planning work to identify the best long-term solutions for our students, our schools and our community,” reads the preamble in a new district document that lays out the rationale and process behind a facilities master plan.
It’s a plan that district officials said will provide a blueprint “for meeting the changing facility needs of the district.” Those changing needs are being influenced in part by declining student enrollment, limited property tax dollars and the ACSD’s transition to an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum that makes students more responsible for their learning with the goal of better preparing them for success in an increasingly global community.
District Superintendent Peter Burrows stressed the facilities master plan shouldn’t be seen as a precursor to closing schools in the ACSD; such a dramatic step has its own separate process and would ultimately require permission from local voters. Rather, it should be seen as a catalyst for better management/maintenance of ACSD buildings and perhaps using them in different ways for the benefit of students.
Burrows noted this latest master planning effort sprang from the ACSD board’s review last summer of a proposal to move all of the district’s 6th-graders from their respective elementary schools to Middlebury Union Middle School. It would have made MUMS a grades 6-8 school. Some endorsed the move as a way of better integrating the IB curriculum. But a majority of the board balked at the move, with some members arguing it might make the ACSD’s elementary schools less viable. Six of the district’s seven elementary schools have fewer than 100 students.
A report stemming from the “grade 6 to MUMS” proposal included a recommendation that officials instead look “more holistically” at the district’s assets in future planning.
“(We decided) it made more sense, for the first time ever, to create a plan that looks at all our facilities — both in terms of their physical requirements and needs, as well as educational adequacy,” Burrows said. “We’ll be looking at demographic trends and creating recommendations for the board to make decisions, instead of being reactionary year by year without and basis and data.”
The master plan, according to district officials, is intended to ensure school buildings:
•  Provide spaces that support the educational programs and goals of the District.
•  Provide a healthy, comfortable learning environment.
•  Ensure a safe and secure school environment.
•  Meet current codes and regulations, including requirements for accessibility, fire-life-safety and structural safety.
•  Provide a more equitable balance of resources such as core and non-core, co-curricular and extra-curricular programming.
•  Achieve increased efficiency and effectiveness with a larger pool of resources.
•  Continue to foster relationships with support the engagement of the community members and groups.
It’s a plan that will also chronicle each building’s capacity, ability to support specific programs, adequacy of technology, physical characteristics and available outdoor space.
District officials will be seeking input from local residents. To that end, they’ll be forming an 18-member facilities master plan steering committee that will include parents, ACSD officials, students and community members. Anyone seeking a spot on the panel should contact the district office at 382-1274 by June 18.
“We really want this to be a community driven conversation, rather than coming from the board,” said ACSD board member Jennifer Nuceder from Salisbury. She currently chairs the board’s facilities master plan subcommittee.
A tentative timeline calls for the new steering committee to be formed later this month, with community dialogue sessions to be held between this October and next February. That panel would draft its recommendations in February and then hold a second series of community dialogues to get reaction to the draft plan. The final facilities master plan — to include cost-estimates and potential timelines for its recommendations — is due next spring.
“I’m seeing it as an opportunity,” Nuceder said of the master plan. “It’s an opportunity we have as a result of the (governance) unification, that we can look holistically at the district resources as opposed to individual school and town resources.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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