SANDOWN – With two failed ballot initiatives to keep Sandown Central School open, the fate of the school seems sealed.
Though no decision has been made at the Timberlane Regional School District board level, prior to the Tuesday, March 10 vote the board indicated a desire to let the people direct what to do with the school through the warrant articles.
Operating funds for the fourth and fifth grade school had been removed from the budget this year, but two ballot initiatives, one generated by the district and one generated by a citizens’ petition, sought to keep the doors open for at least another year.
Article 4, put out by the district, sought $1,160,544 for a year’s operation and a kitchen renovation. Even Sandown turned down this article. Locally it failed 580 to 490 and district wide the gap widened at 3,637 to 1,166.
Article 10, which sought $602,528 for a year’s operation of the school, passed in Sandown 558 to 411 but failed district wide at 3,360 to 1,329.
More people in Sandown voted to conduct a study on the closure of the school then voted to keep it open for a year while the study was being completed. That article, the last on the warrant, passed in Sandown 718 to 264.
The plan is to consolidate the fourth and fifth grades into Sandown North School, which houses kindergarten through third grade, among other programs.
Discussion to close Central was ramped up this year, but it had long been an option in the district.
Superintendent Earl Metzler said indications were that the school would close, though a final decision needs to be made by the school board. Metzler said the district is already moving to create the plans and procedures to close the building and expects to present those to the board on March 19 for further direction.
Metzler said three options exist for the building: sell it, lease it or use it for some other district purpose, but he suspects the third option was the most likely.
While an offer to lease the building has come in, leaders have noted a disinclination to sell the building outright.
A plan for the consolidation is hoped to be mostly together by April but the superintendent conceded that a lot of work needed to be done to share plans with the public and get them on board. The superintendent expects a lot of community outreach, but is confident the district can put together a plan to make parents and students comfortable and even excited about the consolidation.
“We’ll work with staff and families but we need to make some hard decisions,” said Metzler.
Everyone keeps talking about how great a school Central is, and Metzler doesn’t disagree, but North is also an award-winning school and he suspects that done correctly, the two together can be even better than they were as separate entities.
“We’re bringing two great schools together, like an all-star team,” said Metzler.
Metzler noted that as a building leader in the past he has done a lot of work shifting grades around and moving them in and out of buildings.
Planning is important but it’s also important for people to be on board with the work and to be flexible with changes.
“It’s the right thing to do but it comes with some pain and suffering,” said Metzler, adding he was more than optimistic going forward that it will be a great thing for Sandown. “It might take a while to appreciate and enjoy it but I think the people of Sandown will be proud of this school and will support it.”
A citizens’ group is forming to help prepare the grounds at North School for the consolidation.
Meanwhile, Central will be available for use by Sandown’s Summer Recreation Program, according to Metzler. There had been some concern about its availability.