In June, voters in the towns of Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington voted against bonding $40.7 million to renovate and expand their elementary schools, which worries some officials.

By February, those same voters will be asked to choose between building one consolidated elementary school in Washington or doing the work needed to make the three elementary schools in the separate towns viable.

Bridgewater and Roxbury's first selectmen hope that voters choose to spend the necessary money to maintain Burnham Elementary and Booth Free Elementary in their respective towns.

"Looking down the road, if a consolidated school in Washington is decided on, Roxbury and Bridgewater will be the only towns in the state without elementary schools," said Barbara Henry, first selectman of Roxbury. "The towns' character has to be looked at. Without an elementary school, people without young children will be more likely to move into town."

If you don't have people moving into town with young children, newcomers are more likely to work out of town and that affects having a volunteer base for an ambulance and firefighting crews, Henry said - something that her town is already struggling with.

"I am in favor of keeping our elementary schools. They are the heart of the towns of Roxbury and Bridgewater," she said. "Once they are closed, they're closed and it will be a long time before the subject is even brought up again."

Bill Stuart, first selectman in Bridgewater, agreed.

"There is only one way to go. That's keeping the three schools," Stuart said. "Kindergarteners through fifth-graders from Bridgewater will be traveling 1½ hours on a bus a day if the consolidated school goes through. Educators will tell you that kids have a better opportunity in a (state-of-the-art) consolidated school. But I don't believe it."

Henry and Stuart both said that based purely on cost, a consolidated school comes in at a lesser cost - until all of the factors are considered. There are costs that come with the towns being left with three buildings no longer used as schools, Henry said.

Repair, upkeep and bringing the buildings up to code to house new enterprises must be taken into consideration, Stuart noted.

"The only smart thing this community did when it joined the region was to keep its elementary school," Stuart said. "They should never let us lose that part of our identity now."

The Region 12 Elementary Schools Options Steering Committee is made up of six voting members (town first selectmen and one member from each town's finance board) and three non-voting members (the president of the Region 12 Board of Education, the Region 12 superintendent of schools and a Roxbury resident).

Individual task forces have been formed in each community, made up of volunteers who are considering keeping their town's individual elementary schools.

Whether to consolidate or restore and upgrade individual schools had been the source of "intense deliberation" for two years at the Region 12 Board of Education level, since a 2003 study revealed it was time to "pay serious attention" to the towns' primary schools, said Dan Sherr, chairman of the communications committee of the steering committee.

Sherr said that cutting costs since the $40.7 million figure presented in June has been a prime consideration of the steering committee and task forces. In the original referendum, a consolidated school was not presented as an option.

"We're trying to communicate as much as possible with voters, giving the community as much of an opportunity for dialogue as possible," he said. "The process has been designed to make sure no stone is left unturned."

Prices are not available at this time on what costs will be for each scenario. However, by the Jan. 11 meeting at 7:30 p.m. at Shepaug High School in Washington, those costs will be available, Sherr said.

A final information meeting at Shepaug High School is set for Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m., with three town meetings planned Jan. 17 in Bridgewater, Jan. 18 in Roxbury and Jan. 19 in Washington. Contact Susan Tuz


or at (203) 731-3352.