Mansfield to hold referendum on $870,000 school gym renovation

Mansfield Middle School is currently planning to fix it's crumbling gym floors, which were originally installed nearly 50 years ago. Residents will have the opportunity to vote on this decision on Election Day. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

On Nov. 8, Mansfield residents can participate in a referendum authorizing the issue of $873,000 in bonds to fund renovations to Mansfield Middle School’s gymnasium and related facilities.

The primary focus of this project would be to replace Mansfield Middle School’s crumbling gym floors, which were originally installed nearly 50 years ago, said Randall Walikonis, chair of the Mansfield’s Board of Education. Upgrades will also be made to the school’s bleachers, gym dividers, locker rooms and scoreboards, according to the referendum’s explanatory text.

“We’ve gotten a lot of use out of that floor, it has held up quite well, but it’s time,” Walikonis said.

The gym has been used extensively by physical education classes, community basketball teams and the town’s summer camp program, Walikonis said, but needs to be updated to meet modern standards.

Residents should consider the project’s value as an investment in the community, said Jay Rueckl, vice-chair of the Board of Education and associate professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut.

“It’s not like kids are going to break their ankles right now, but it’s a safety issue,” Rueckl said. “The floors have been repaired quite a few times already so we’re well past the point where it’s cost efficient to just keeping repairing them.”

If the referendum passes, Mansfield will issue bonds through an investor agency to support the project, said Town Council Member Ben Shaiken. This would require the town of Mansfield to pay back investors with interest over a period of 10 or 20 years, Shaiken said.

While this would come at a cost to taxpayers, Shaiken said he thinks Mansfield’s low debt portfolio puts it in a good position to offer a lower interest rate than other towns might be able to. This is because Mansfield switched to a pay-as-you-go system nearly a decade ago, allowing the town to set aside money in a savings account to cover small capital projects like purchasing new firetrucks or snowplows without going into debt, Shaiken said.

“With that kind of stuff we usually just pay cash up front and we save taxpayers by doing that because there’s no interest, and that’s unique among towns,” Shaiken said.

Town Council Member Virginia Raymond said that while she expects the referendum to pass, she would have chosen to fund the project through this program rather than bonding.

“We’ve been working hard over the past few years to maintain a capital account so that we can pay for projects as we go along,” Raymond said. “I would have preferred that the whole amount be scheduled over time so that we were setting the money aside.”

Raymond said the town is in the process of completing a study to identify the status of its buildings and how it should prioritize major maintenance work in the future. This should help prevent projects from falling through the cracks the way Mansfield Middle School’s gym did, Raymond said.

In order for the referendum to pass, 15 percent of registered voters in Mansfield must vote to approve it. Walikonis said it is hard to predict how the public will respond.

“In general, the town of Mansfield is very supportive of its schools, so I’m optimist that it will pass, but we’ll wait and see Tuesday night,” Walikonis said.

Registered voters can vote for the referendum at their regular polling place on Nov. 8, while unregistered voters can participate in the referendum at the Registrars of Voters Office in Mansfield Town Hall.


Kimberly Armstrong is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.