Town Committed to Fixing Problems at Pearson School

WINSTED - Town and school officials have committed to addressing nearly 30 U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) violations by April of next year, as repairs and upgrades are scheduled for door handles, water fountains, bathrooms and the school elevator, among other projects.

"The town building committee obviously has changed since the election, but the direction has not changed," said Superintendent of Schools Blaise Salerno in an interview Tuesday. "The direction has been and will continue to be that we will address all of the OCR complaints that were part of the original list."

OCR set the deadline of April 2009 for Winsted to fix 29 different accessibility code violations at the school.

"At this point three of the projects have been done and we are working on a number of others," Salerno said. "There are a number of large items that are going to have to be a part of some kind of funding plan that will be done over the summer and recess periods next year."

On Jan. 10, the town’s school building committee voted to hire an architect to make repairs at Pearson. A letter was subsequently sent to state officials detailing the town’s plan for major repairs at the school. The OCR issues are currently the top priority because Winsted faces the possibility of being cited for further violations, resulting in fines. Estimates of the cost of the work range from nearly $1 million to more than $3 million.

Salerno noted the town is taking a team-effort approach to upgrades at Pearson, with some money coming from the town manager’s capital budget and some coming from the annual school budget. Last year the Board of Selectmen approved $25,000 in the town manager’s budget for work on OCR-related issues.

The original OCR complaint pertained to accessibility issues for a vision-impaired child who was attending Pearson Middle School three years ago. The student no longer attends Pearson, but the violations cited by OCR must be addressed.

"There are a lot of other issues that have got to be dealt with in the town and the school department and we’re looking for all the help the state can give us to begin to address the infrastructure problem," Salerno said, adding that town officials are working together to make widespread improvements to town and school buildings. "The assurance I have been given by the Board of Selectmen is that they are all aware of our needs in the buildings and they will move as quickly as they can within the resources of the town to get things done."

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