Funding crunch prompts review of future Fairfield school projects
Published 5:25 pm, Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Citing the economy and pending Representative Town Meeting action on a number of school capital projects, the Board of Education on Tuesday night put off a vote on the Long Range Facilities Plan until May 10.
The plan's initial four-year summary shows $46 million worth of projects, though First Selectman Kenneth Flatto, at a capital planning meeting last August, said he could foresee funding only about $27 million in school projects for 2011 to 2015.
Board of Education Chairman John Mitola, when asked about the $46 million figure following Tuesday's meeting, said, "We wanted to show what our real needs are."
However, several board members were of the opinion that only the most urgent projects should be included in the initial four years of the long-range plan, since to include many others, in the current economic climate, is not realistic, according to board Vice Chairwoman Pamela Iacono. She said including projects that will not be addressed in four years, as has been the case in previous long-term plans, would give members of various school communities false hope that their respective school will get a make-over sooner rather than later.
Iacono and Tim Kery, chairman of the board's Facilities, Technology and Long Range Planning Committee, felt Riverfield Elementary School should top a pared-down list because it has five portables on site that are reaching the end of their usefulness and need to be replaced with a 10-classroom addition. Renovation and addition work would also include implementing all building code, life safety code and fire code requirements, designing and installing a new fire sprinkler system, designing and installing a new HVAC system and installing additional lockers. The school, according to Iacono, was built in 1959 and hasn't had a significant renovation in 40 years. The Riverfield work, pegged for the 2011-12 school year, is estimated to cost $9 million.
"The priority right now needs to be Riverfield," she said. "It is centrally located in terms of where the overcrowded population is. It will help to ease pressure on this side of town."
Iacono's other big concern, when it comes to renovation/expansion projects, is Fairfield Ludlowe High School, which needs six additional classrooms, additional lockers and a cafeteria addition to accommodate growing enrollment.
"Then my third concern is maintaining our buildings," said Iacono. "We need to stay on schedule, as painful financially as that may be. We need to maintain our buildings because past experience has shown us it costs us more in the long run if we don't maintain them.
At least some work on 10 schools and the Early Childhood Center is scheduled for year one of the four-year plan, including Fairfield Warde High School. Missing among the 10 is Fairfield Ludlowe, which has nearly $6 million worth of renovation/addition work scheduled for 2012-13. The RTM, at its April 25 meeting, will decide if all that work will commence next year.
Board members Paul Fattibene and Sue Brand, early in the discussion Tuesday, felt the long-range plan should be referred back to the Facilities, Technology and Long Range Planning Committee for the compilation of a new priority list.
"We know we have very little money and I think that would be the best way to approach it," she said, adding that there should be an explanation for the ranking order. Later in the night, the board voted to direct the administration, not the subcommittee, to rank projects on the capital projects list for a long-range plan to be voted on in May.
Kery, like Iacono, stated what his top priorities would be. He agreed with Iacono on the Riverfield and Ludlowe renovations, and also ranked Holland Hill and Mill Hill elementary schools as numbers three and four, respectively. Both Holland Hill, built in 1956, and Mill Hill, built in 1955, need additions to eliminate portable classrooms (there are three at Holland Hill and five at Mill Hill) and an upgrade of the core facilities.
The school population across all grades is expected to jump from 10,128 in year one of the four-year plan to 10,572 in school year 2015-16. By 2020-21, the student population is expected to reach 11,080, according to one set of enrollment projections.