SHERMAN – On Thursday, November 19, the Sherman Board of Selectmen heard a presentation from the Sherman Board of Education on potential school renovation work. A topic that was being hotly-debated in the community last winter, the discussion of school construction went on pause for the greater community when Covid-19 emerged. However, in recent months, the school board has been increasingly vocal about the need to move forward.
In a lengthy presentation that had been sharpened since last winter, the BOE walked the BOS through the progression of construction thought analyses, pointing to structural and infrastructural issues that are evident in the school. They explained that their options for proposed school repairs or renovations are three-tiered: first, making capital improvements over a long period of time; second, renovating the buildings as is without additions; or, finally, larger scale renovations with additions. All options would include enhancements for the playground areas, with the third option involving the largest number of improvements, from parking to landscaping. All come with price tags in the millions.
The BOE unanimously approved recommending the third option of larger scale renovations with additions is their preferred plan. They explained that the first option would not include any state grant money, but the second or third would. They also fear the impacts on a generation of Sherman’s students if the first or second options are chosen, which would include the need for portable classrooms. In addition, the BOS explained that they have attempted to incorporate ways to benefit the community in the third option.
In terms of next steps, BOE Chair Ms. Kasey Diotte said that they are not looking to go straight to referendum, but that they would appreciate feedback on direction from the Sherman BOS.
“We are looking to work together with you to develop a plan. If it isn’t this plan, tell us that. Maybe there is another plan?,” Diotte said. She explained that the BOE is looking for guidance as soon as possible as school maintenance officials are in limbo on repair projects pending possible forward movement. She also asked for a timeframe, saying “I appreciate that this is a big ask for right now, but now’s the time.”
First Selectman Mr. Don Lowe said the BOS “appreciates all of the work that the BOE has put into this design proposal.” BOS members said that they need time to consider the project more fully and will hold a public meeting to discuss their thoughts in the near future, likely in January. In the meantime, the BOS asked that the maintenance staff create an immediate needs list, so that they can help prioritize spending. Selectman Mr. Bob Ostrosky pointed out that even if there was a go ahead on construction at some point, they would be looking at several years before construction would go in place and the needs list would be relevant in the interim. After the presentation, a BOE member and a parent spoke in support of the preferred option.
In a Covid-19 update, Lowe lamented that it is “not really very good news,” saying that there are 19 confirmed new cases in Sherman in recent weeks. The steep increase has designated the town in “red alert” status according to state guidelines. Lowe pointed out that Sherman’s increase in cases are not from a single event, but are all individual cases that reflect the larger pandemic issues that are plaguing the state and country. “It’s a time to be vigilant,” Lowe said, “the next 6 to 8 weeks are very critical.” He is happy that the school has continued to stay Covid-free at this point.
In a Happy Acres Farm discussion, Lowe explained that Farm Manager Mr. David Jellen is hoping to alter his contract into a longer-term commitment. Currently signing 1-year contracts, he hopes to extend the commitment to 5 years. Stating that the financial agreement and terms would not change, only the duration, Lowe agreed with fellow BOS members that a new document should be drawn up to review. Town Treasurer Mr. Eric Holub pointed out that stipulations should be reviewed regarding the house use over the 5-year term.
Lowe was excited to report that the barn painting is nearly complete, with only two sashes remaining to paint. He also said that, although the growing season is over, Jellen has meat available for sale. BOS members agreed with Ostrosky when he said, “the farm looks the best it has in a long time.”
Candlewood Lake Authority (CLA) representative Ms. Marianne Gaffey attend the BOS meeting to formally rescind their request for $50K. She happily explained that they have received a $100K donation from FirstLight for a patrol boat, plus the CLA plans to budget for another boat on their own. She also mentioned that New Fairfield has donated one of their boats to the CLA that will be used for scientific endeavors.
There was a bit of a contentious discussion regarding the status of a Sherman Veterans Association search for a headquarters. SVA Commander Mr. Ed Hayes explained that there are brewing frustrations regarding the possibility of the veterans using the Scout House as a home base. Hayes asked that a town official step in to moderate with the scouts community as needed. Lowe hopes to diffuse the situation by saying that he is leaving the SVA headquarters off the BOS agenda until a firmer plan is in place. He clarified that the veterans are not only looking for a spot for formal meetings, they hope to offer a place where members can come together in an ad hoc manner. Furthermore, he pointed out that a good amount of the issue surrounds inadequate storage in town–the scouts store a lot of equipment at the Scout House–and he hopes to propose a new storage solution in the near future, possibly on public works land.
Mr. Chris Fuchs gave a Sherman Volunteer Fire Department update, reporting that their new tanker has arrived and members have been training on its use. He said that the tanker has major enhancements including better pump and engine capability. In addition, he explained that they are continuing to train safely online or in small groups outdoors due to the pandemic. The members are stocked with adequate personal protective equipment and are screening individuals before entering their homes.
The next regular Sherman Board of Selectmen meeting is scheduled for Thursday, December 17, 7pm.
By Sarah Opdahl