Fairfield school board concerned about reimbursement deadline
FAIRFIELD — Insisting on cost estimates for three different versions of the Mill Hill School project has some Board of Education members worried they’ll miss a state reimbursement deadline.
The Board of Finance and the Board of Selectmen asked that they receive estimates for the renovation and expansion project for three different student capacities, despite the school board’s original request for a 504 student capacity project.
Board member Jessica Gerber, who serves as a liaison to the building committee, said she asked several weeks ago how confident the committee was that they would meet the June 30,2019 deadline for submitting the reimbursement application.
“They are already a little bit behind,” Gerber said. “There definitely are concerns.”
She said if the design approval takes more than one meeting with each board for approval, that could completely throw off the schedule, adding that this would all be coming in the middle of the budget season. “I’m not sure there is anything this board can do,” Gerber said. “It will be tight, at best.”
“I want to ask whether it would be appropriate talking about timelines,” board member Jeffery Peterson said. “One of the reasons we asked for alternates in the beginning was to get a rough idea for the costs.” He asked whether they could ask the building committee if they could give us “a rule of thumb, a rough something, something to chew on.”
Chairman Phil Dwyer said it was not the school board’s idea to seek the three option costs — that came from the selectmen and the Board of Finance. “In order to move the project along, we did not object to the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen doing that,” Dwyer said. “To us, the June date is critical.”
The options look at school capacities of 378, 440 and 504. “On the 378, this board has had past conversations that an 18 classroom building would not be acceptable to this board,” Dwyer said. “If it were me, I’d say if you want to look at 378 you’re welcome to, but that is not a vote of this board, that’s a line we’re going to have to address.”
He also said when you ask an architect for a ball park cost estimate without a space planning document, the number is based on a general cost estimate and can be seen by some in town as a firm number. That, Dwyer said, then leads to more questions should the actual number come in higher.
“My fear is the whole fire storm that started with Mill Hill started with a number thrown out there that was not factually based,” board member Nicholas Aysseh said.
Sal Morabito, manager pf construction, security and safety for the district, said if the June 30 deadline is missed, absent any change in state statutes, it means state certification for reimbursement will be delayed for a year, and the town would carry the bond payment, with interest, for a year longer.
“The other change that could happen,’ he said, “is whether our reimbursement rate will be changed. That’s the biggest unknown.” Right now, the town gets about a 24 percent reimbursement.
Board member Trish Pytko wanted to know how realistic is the June 30 deadline.
“They didn’t say absolutely no, but they said it’s going to be tight, Gerber said, and a lot could happen between now and June 30, if the project is able to move quickly through all the town bodies and no one asks for a second presentation. She said it’s hard to know at this point when the building committee will know if the deadline will be met, or missed.
Gerber said a delay in the Mill Hill project impacts other pending school projects, pushing them further out.
The Mill Hill Building Committee received $1.5 million in seed money and is in the process of hiring an architect. Costs for adding 5 classrooms to the school have been pegged at as much a $25 million.