Don't judge a construction site by its cover. While Fairfield Woods Middle School Principal Greg Hatzsis said anyone driving by might think the school property these days looks like the aftermath of a hurricane, construction officials promise to have the new classroom wing, as well as work on the kitchen and cafeteria, wrapped up by the start of the new school year Sept. 1.
Malkin Construction project manager Ralph Martin said his men are squeezing in about four months of work, or more, in two months' time.
"It always comes down to the last week where it all comes together," he said.
The new Fairfield Woods classroom wing is nearly complete, sidewalks are under way, equipment has been installed in the kitchen/cafeteria space, and paving of the expanded student drop-off area was scheduled to take place mid-week. In addition, painting and flooring of the new classroom wing is expected to wrap up by the weekend, furniture should arrive next week and other classrooms are being upgraded.
"Everything's been pretty smooth," said Fairfield Woods Building Committee Chairman Bill Sapone. "There's always glitches along the way here and there, but I think it's gone remarkably well."
When the school year begins, the remaining work on the $24.4 million project will be an auxiliary gym addition and the construction of a 600-seat auditorium.
The auditorium puts Fairfield Woods, built in 1954, on par with the district's two other middle schools. "We were the only secondary school without an auditorium," Hatzsis said.
When all is said and done, the school's enrollment capacity will increase from 650 students to 840 students.
The new classroom wing houses 17 classrooms, but the next gain is 13 rooms since four existing science rooms were demolished to make room for the addition.
The addition/renovation was essential, according to Hatzsis, to accommodate the large elementary school population now shifting to the town's middle schools.
The school's enrollment is expected to grow by about 100 students this fall under a Board of Education-approved "feeder" pattern assigning students to the town's three middle schools. Previously, Jennings, North Stratfield and Burr elementary schools sent students to Fairfield Woods, under the new redistricting four elementary schools will now feed Fairfield Woods -- Jennings, North Stratfield, Osborn Hill and Holland Hill.
"If the Board of Education had not grandfathered seventh and eighth grade, the number of additional students would have been closer to 200 to 300," Hatzsis said.
"Fairfield Woods was the only campus that had room to expand," he added.
The Town Plan and Zoning Commission in December had amended its regulations to allow the town to expand lot coverage and approved a special exception to make the alterations and additions to Fairfield Woods.
The school's expansion/renovation fulfills a "need for the town," the principal said.
"Fairfield Woods itself, based on the old feeder pattern, was going to be over capacity, but not too much," said Hatzsis. "But the other two (middle) schools were largely overcrowded ... It's important that we have a place for the students to come. All three schools will be operating at or above capacity for several years to come, and if we had not added the classrooms, we would not have had anywhere to put the kids."
Malkin Construction crews have been working seven days a week on the classroom wing and six days a week on other aspects of the project. Workers have been on the job 12 hours a day minimum, but "some guys are doing more than that," according to Martin.
Meanwhile, about two-thirds of Fairfield Woods' teachers will not be in the classrooms where they taught last year.
"The teachers had to pack their entire classroom while they were in school," Hatzsis said.
The faculty is expected to get a look at their new rooms the week before school starts. Normally, some would be in their classrooms already to prepare for the school year. With the construction, however, that has not been possible at Fairfield Woods.
Although construction work will continue when the teachers and students are back in class, the new auxiliary gym and the auditorium are essentially separate buildings, so work can proceed without much disruption to the student body, officials said.
Martin expects the Fairfield Woods renovation/expansion project will be completed in late February.