After three hours quizzing the building committee, architect and school officials advocating a $14 million plan to renovate and expand Riverfield School, the Board of Selectmen ultimately took no action Wednesday on the bonding request for the project.
The initial bonding request was for $15.15 million, but the building committee on Tuesday had cut the proposed gym expansion and air conditioning for the entire Mill Plain Road school, trimming the price tag to $13.99 million.
The project itself also has been redesigned from a two-story addition to replace the so-called "pod" at one end of the building to a one-story addition behind the existing structure.
The design change was necessary, Thomas Quinn, the building committee chairman told the selectmen, because testing revealed that soil under the pod would not support the proposed two-story addition.
Building there would require stabilizing the project 10 feet into the ground, compared to 3½ feet if built behind the school.
Selectman Kevin Kiley said he felt the original proposal better addressed more of the aging school's problems.
The new plan, he said, compromises school security, air-quality issues and the capacity of the gym.
"I'm still troubled in general by the pods still being there," Kiley said. "I don't hate them, like the portables, but I'm going to spend $15 million and still have a bunch of pods. Is that what we want?"
Kiley said he would like to know what it would cost to build the addition in place of the pod, and First Selectman Michael Tetreau said any change to the specifications, like eliminating the larger gym, needs approval from the Board of Education.
The selectmen said they didn't want to delay the project, which they all agreed was necessary, but they want more information before voting.
Quinn, however, said with the selectmen holding off a vote it possibly jeopardizes an estimated $500,000 in savings by delaying the start of construction from June 2014 to potentially June 2015 instead.
"If we don't get a vote tonight, we are being slowed down," Quinn said. "I can get you most of this stuff by the end of the week" he added about the requested information.
Tetreau said the selectmen could convene a special meeting on the Riverfield bonding request, rather than waiting until its April meeting. Board of Education Chairman Philip Dwyer said his board could also hold a special meeting in order to vote on the changes to the education specifications for the gym.
The first selectman said the building committee should also meet with police officials to make sure any changes to the renovated building meet security standards.
Several parents urged the board to approve the request, citing concerns about the aging building, the lack of space for occupational and physical therapy, and the lack of safety for students when in one of the five portable classrooms behind the school.
"Those children sit alone out there," said Riverfield parent Hope Crotty, who has two children attending the school. As a special-education teacher herself, Crotty noted that special-needs students at Riverfield receive therapy in the hallways.
"There's a lot of parents here," she said. "This is crucial to us."
The Riverfield project would eliminate the five portable classrooms, and expand the building to increase the 21 grade-level classrooms to 24, while providing additional program space for resource rooms, occupational and physical therapy, and expand the kitchen, adding a second serving line. Toilets that currently are not compliant with the American Disabilities Act standards will be upgraded.