School officials tasked with building a permanent bathroom facility at the Coginchaug High School athletic complex appear to have been given some breathing room to complete the project.
At Wednesday's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting in Durham, commission members were presented with several costly construction estimates before being informed by resident Karen Cheyney that she was willing to renegotiate a stipulated agreement that requires the school district to complete the project by the spring of 2014.
"This is a huge amount of money, for a small town in a year when there's some really tight money," Cheyney said. "So, I approached the school and said, 'Would it make life easier if we renegotiated the agreement?'"
Cheyney sued the school district and commission in 2009 in an effort to stop the athletic facility from being built. A year later, the three sides approved a stipulated agreement that, among other things, required the school district to install permanent bathrooms at the site.
Under renewed pressure to complete the project, the school district's fieldhouse and finance committees have spent several months weighing a handful of options, including construction of a facility complete with locker rooms, offices and storage areas.
The facility would cost approximately $990,000, according board chairman Kerrie Flanagan, who said the estimate does not include financing or interest expenses.
A second option, estimated to cost around $700,000 in construction alone, would allow the school district to build a shell of the building with completed restroom facilities.
Flanagan said the committees also considered three other options — a restroom-only facility with a price tag of about $512,000; a prefabricated building that would require the existing slab to be demolished and a new slab installed; leasing portable toilets for $49,000-$65,000 per year — before agreeing unanimously on the second option, or "Option B."
But in order to meet the stipulated agreement's April 2014 deadline, Flanagan said taxpayers would need to approve the spending.
"We have to include, in the [May] referendum, a proposal for bonding to proceed with this project. If that referendum doesn't pass than we're not going to be able to build the building. At this point, we can't fund it any other way," Flanagan said.
"We already know we are in a tough, tough budget year," she added. "Unfortunately, if we go forward with this, which at this point we plan to because we have to, it's not because we think its in the best interest of the educational system."
Cheyney, who serves as the town's Democratic Registrar of Voters, said a bond was unlikely to pass at referendum and proposed renegotiating the stipulated agreement for the sole purpose of extending the April 2014 deadline.
"I think when we entered it, none of us were thinking of these kind of numbers," she said.
Several commission members personally thanked Cheyney for offering to modify the agreement, the details of which will be worked out by lawyers for each of the three parties.
Any new agreement would also require approval from the court.