SOUTH COVENTRY - A year after it was given the daunting task of addressing the Owen J. Roberts School District's enrollment boom, a task force has endorsed a $60 million plan to build an elementary school and reconfigure the populations of the district's other buildings.

Of the 67 feasibility study task force members qualified to vote on recommendations, 63 chose the plan most recently advanced by the architectural firm of Diseroad, Wolff, Kelly, Clough, Bucher Inc. of Hatfield.

Necessitated by the approval of 18 large-scale housing developments in the district and the subsequent increase in student population, the plan includes modification of attendance boundaries for elementary school students.

Additionally, the plan calls for placing the sixth grade in the elementary buildings and limiting the middle school population to grades 7 and 8, building a three-story addition to the high school, and constructing an elementary school.

The initial phase of plan implementation involves the construction, which is expected to begin in January. Architects projected completion of the high school expansion by September 2007. The new elementary school would be ready for occupancy at the start of the 2009-10 academic year.

Before the task force voted, district business administrator Denny Bolton estimated annual operating costs for the new elementary school and the high school addition.

With a planned capacity of 650 students, the new elementary school is expected to be an 80,000-square-foot facility. Annual operating expenses for the new building are projected to be more than $465,000, according to Bolton.

At 71,000 square feet, the proposed addition to the high school would accommodate about 700 additional students and carry a projected operating cost of more than $450,000. The operating costs include custodial services, utilities, water and sewer, general supplies, lawn care and snow removal, and technology infrastructure.

Bolton explained that the figures "exclude the costs of professional staff members" necessary to staff the buildings.

The task force members will also recommend the school board address "inequities" among schools, enhance security in district buildings, maintain existing buildings with capital reserve money, realign attendance boundaries and comply with program committee recommendations.

By a vote of 35-29, the group opted to recommend a backup plan calling for retaining kindergarten through fifth grade in the elementary schools; modifying the existing middle school to accommodate grades 8 and 9; limiting the existing high school to grades 10, 11 and 12; and building an intermediate school to accommodate grades 6 and 7 on the Kutz/Painter property.

Debbie Bissland, the chairwoman of the task force, invited members to attend the June 21 school board meeting, when the recommendations will be presented to the full school board.

She thanked the task force members for their commitment and diligent efforts over the many months the study encompassed.

"We can be proud of the fact that the task force did this," she said. "Without your cooperation, we wouldn't be here at this moment."

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