"I'm trying to wrap my arms around how we got from $11 million," First Selectman Michael Tetreau said, referring to initial cost estimates for the project, after hearing a presentation on the latest cost from the Riverfield Building Committee.
The lower price estimate was prepared by an architect months ago before the formation of a building committee to renovate the Mill Plain Road elementary school.
Tetreau said he would like to know details of the changes from what was originally presented to the board versus what is now on the table. Wednesday's presentation was for informational purposes and there were no votes taken.
For example, Tetreau said, the original education specifications for the projected indicated six new classrooms, but the latest plans show 16 classrooms.
That, committee Chairman Tom Quinn and school administrators explained, was a factor of the plan the building committee adopted.
Under its proposal, the so-called "pod" at one end of the school would be demolished and a two-story classroom addition built in its place. Those seven classrooms in the pod need to be replaced. In addition, several existing classrooms would be renovated into resource rooms and a health suite, and those classrooms also need to be replaced.
"There is a certain sticker shock," Tetreau said.
Pam Iacono, the Board of Education liaison to the building committee, said the education specs are based on a deficiency study done of all the town's schools, and the specifications are what is needed for a school designed to accommodate up to 504 students.
"We never designed an $11 million addition/renovation that got out of hand," Quinn said. "We designed a $15 million building to the ed specs."
Initially, the design came in at $17 million, he said, but was "value engineered" to reduce the cost to $15 million, a figure with which building committee members felt comfortable.
The proposed project would also add space to the existing gym, and the stage would be moved from the all-purpose room to the gym and would create a music suite. The kitchen would be upgraded, though at this point there are no plans to add a second serving line.
The existing overhang at the school would be enclosed, and entry to the building would be through the school office.
Tetreau asked why the committee did not decide to go with an annex, as was used at both Sherman and Osborn Hill schools at a cost of about $1.5 million each.
It was pointed out that the annexes cannot be attached to the existing school building without triggering code updates of the entire school. But in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, the annex design is not considered optimal for safety.
"If we have (annex) security issue at Sherman and Osborn Hill, we need to have that addressed ASAP," Tetreau said.
Quinn said the annex method was also dismissed because of the Riverfield property itself, which he said has little space to spare. The area where an annex could be accommodated, he said, would mean cutting into ballfields behind the school.
Tetreau, however, said new ballfields could be built within a project of a different design for an overall cost less than $15 million.