Region 12 Ag-STEM advocates make their voices heard
WASHINGTON — Proponents of the prospective Ag-STEM project at Region 12 schools came out in force at a Board of Education meeting Monday, pushing back against recent criticism of the project.
“Get shovel ready,” several residents of Washington, Roxbury and Bridgewater told the board. The district should do everything they can to make the project work, they added, regardless of cost concerns.
They voted for the Ag-STEM program last November, and no matter how impassioned doubters — who rallied against the board and Ag-STEM for 45 minutes at the last BOE meeting — may be, the majority of Region 12 residents are still firmly behind the project, Ag-STEM advocates said.
Residents voted to build Ag-STEM additions the Shepaug Valley School by a 2-to-1 margin in a November 2015 referendum. School officials and Ag-STEM proponents think the additions will attract enough out-of-district students to keep the school district alive in the face of dwindling enrollment.
More than a dozen Region 12 residents declared that the Ag-STEM project, although it is now stalled after the state delayed a $29 million bond that would have paid for much of the $39.5 million project, is still the only viable way to save the region which has long struggled with low enrollment.
Among the Ag-STEM advocates were middle-aged folks whose children had already left the school district, elderly citizens, and young parents, all of whom said the project is likely the only way to save the school district.
The project is currently stalled because the state Department of Education and the state Department of Administrative Services have raised concerns that the board’s prospective enrollment numbers for the Ag-STEM school are off, and that the BOE and design firm Kaestle Boos Associates have requested too much square-footage per student in the prospective build.
The next step in the Ag-STEM project is a BOE Building Committee meeting that will decide how to spend up to $30,000 on Kaestle Boos in the hopes of physically shrinking the proposed campus additions.
A date for that building committee meeting has yet to be set.
Ag-STEM doubters say the Ag-STEM project plans are flawed to the point of disrepair, and that school officials have puffed-up enrollment numbers and been disingenuous in their attempts to keep the project on track.
If the Ag-STEM project happens, doubters say, taxpayers will be on the hook for much of the $39.5 million spent on the project.
Project advocates said that no matter what the BOE is dealing with on the state level, the board should continue to make Ag-STEM happen.
Several Ag-STEM proponents said that the issue isn’t a “dollars and cents” affair. The Ag-STEM project should be green-lit even if prospective enrollment numbers are murky, and taxpayers might have to pay more money in the end, they said.
“This project is about our community and our children, not numbers,” said an Ag-STEM advocate as she cradled her infant in her right arm at the BOE meeting Monday.
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