Discussion Still Hot on WHS Geothermal System
WETHERSFIELD - As the $75 million Wethersfield High School renovation project kicks off, Deputy Mayor John Console continues to grill the Building Committee on changes that include the abandonment of plans for a geothermal heating and cooling system, along with other potential alterations.

       Console brought up the issue at last Monday night’s Town Council meeting, during which Wethersfield High School Principal Tom Moore, Superintendent of Schools Michael Emmett, and Christine Fortunato of the Building Committee gave a briefing on parking lot logistics for the start of construction.

       “The voters voted for a certain building,” Console said to Fortunato, referring to a referendum that went out regarding the project. “There were extra stadium seats, geothermal power; do you think the voters are getting what they voted for?”

       “Yes, I do,” Fortunato responded, “because the reasons for this renovation were education, and civil rights [Americans with Disabilities Act] adherence, and that has not been compromised.”

       A focal point of the project is the construction of a new gymnasium, library, and music room, but renovations to the existing building will add a plethora of new science classrooms and labs. To satisfy ADA mandates, the site is also being made handicapped accessible with exterior gradient changes and an elevator.

       Unanticipated costs for PCB removal prompted the elimination of the geothermal systemm which would have involved the drilling of 200 wells at the site, but that was the only component officially eliminated, council and committee member David Drake said.

       Other items, such as the addition of 150 bleacher seats for the high school’s football stadium, were only optioned out in case a second round of bids came in less than favorable, according to Drake.

       For students and parent just beginning the new school year, the most immediate issue is none other than parking. Moore says that he currently has 100 seniors requesting one of 75 available spaces on the site, but that situation may improve.

       “The Building Committee really looked at different options and it looks like we may have another option on the southwest corner, for potentially 40 more spots,” Moore told the council.

       Although there was a discussion regarding the possibility of providing additional parking spaces off campus, environmental regulation constraints, coupled with the fact that off-site work is not state reimbursable, prompted the committee to rule this option out.

       Emmett admitted that high-profile events, such as football games, would draw a crowd too large for the site to be able to accommodate, parking-wise. He pointed to the recent Wethersfield versus Rocky Hill football game, during which spectators parked on the grass in the school’s southeast lot near the tennis courts.

       “When we have events at the high school we’re going to have limited parking; that’s the reality,” he said.

       Last week saw the removal of the fences surrounding the tennis courts, which will become faculty parking. The closing of Folly Brook Boulevard and the use of Eagle Drive as a construction entrance will restrict traffic flow on Jay Street to a one-way route.

       While talks regarding the addition of a crosswalk are ongoing, a 2011 study suggested that I may not be necessary, Emmett said.

       “We found that in the morning, there was a grant total of four kids crossing that way,” he said. “That may change with the construction, so we’ll see.”