The Fairfield Board of Education approved education specifications for an expansion/renovation project at Riverfield Elementary School Tuesday, but not before debating whether to include a cost estimate.

Board member Sue Brand's motion to include a cover letter with a price tag sparked the discussion.

"We base our decisions on the framework of the Long Range Facilities Plan and the estimates that are in it," she told the Fairfeld Citizen on Wednesday morning. The estimate for work at Riverfield School is $9 million.

The school board two weeks ago postponed a vote when told the cost for the project could rise from $9 million to $11 million, depending on whether a separate roofing project -- including Riverfield and four other schools -- is approved.

Board member Tim Kery said it is too early in the planning process to attach cost estimates. "This document is about what we educationally need at Riverfield School," he said, adding that a cover letter as proposed by Brand is not needed now.

Board member John Convertito added, "I don't want to say it's $9 to $11 million when it might be $15 million."

"I think it's too early to put a number on it," said Vice Chairman Philip Dwyer.

Brand subsequently withdrew her motion, but made a second motion to set priorities for the project. That was voted down 8-1.

The board then went on to approve the education specifications for the project unanimously.

The board was presented last month with schematic drawings from architect Phil Cerrone, hired by district so the Board of Selecmen can have an idea of the scope of work proposed for the Mill Plain Road school. Two options were presented to the school board -- one would put an addition on the left side of the existing structure, and the second places the addition at the rear of the school where five portable classrooms are now located.

Riverfield, not counting portable classrooms, encompasses approximately 45,000 square feet. When the school is renovated and expanded, the portable classrooms will be removed and an 11,000-square-foot addition will take their place, according to Cerrone.

The school has an enrollment of 400 students, but could accommodate 504 with the addition.

Among the issues the project is being designed to address are: a small multi-purpose room, which doubles as a cafeteria; a single serving line in the cafeteria; a roof that needs to be replaced, and a gymnasium that is also undersized.

Under one scenario, the multi-purpose room would be expanded by moving a stage from that room to the gymnasium. The stage relocation would give the cafeteria room for eight more tables.

Ryegate Road resident Suzanne Miska, the only member of the public to comment on the "ed specs" at Tuesday's meeting, wondered if renovation/expansion work should be undertaken in these tough economic times.

"There's only so much we can do," she said. Everyone has a wish list for the perfect school, but we can't keep throwing these wish lists out ... Fairfield Warde (High School) is in need of a roof. Kids are sick over there."