RTM passes Fairfield Woods construction
The Representative Town Meeting (RTM) on Monday night approved $24.2 million in bonding for construction to Fairfield Woods Middle School that would add 14 classrooms; expand gym, kitchen and cafeteria space; update safety codes; and erect a 600-seat auditorium at the school.
The construction aims to curb overcrowding at all three of the town's middle schools, as students from Roger Ludlowe and Tomlinson transfer to Fairfield Woods in the next couple of years. A September 2011 goal has been set for the 14 new classrooms at Fairfield Woods to be ready, said Tom Cullen, director of operations for the Board of Education. Currently, there are 674 students enrolled at Fairfield Woods, though the school's capacity is for just 650.
The second impetus for the construction was to better align Fairfield Woods with the other two middle schools, which both have auditoriums. As that portion of the project appeared in doubt heading into Monday night, it was on the forefront of debate.
Ultimately, the vote passed 42--2--1, with Arthur Hug, R-4, and Bruce Challinor, R-1, opposing, and Richard Santalesa, R-3, abstaining. There was cheering and applause from the public. Fourth grader Tommy Flynn pumped his fists and said, "Yeah!"
"We're very pleased," his mother, Amy Flynn, said. Flynn also has an eighth grader at Fairfield Woods and a 3-year-old son. "We're in it for the long run," she said.
The Flynns were among some 40 supporters of the initiative in attendance. Afterward, they huddled outside of Osborn Hill Elementary School, shielded by the doorway from the night's rain.
"Yippee!" said Mary Hogue, the PTA council president-elect.
Michele Modungno leapt in the air.
"I'm elated," she said. "I'm thankful to the RTM for seeing equity and parity should win out. They took the time to do the research and they went on tours with the principal."
"It's exhilarating," said Greg Hatzis, the third-year principal of the school. "It's been a long road and I'm very grateful to the RTM. It's going to mean a lot to a lot of kids down the road."
Almost two hours of debate preceded the vote, however, and it appeared the auditorium itself might not pass. One text amendment, proposed by Hug, would have stripped roughly $6 million from the bonding, the precise amount needed for the auditorium.
"We need more classrooms and we need more space, but that's where it ends," he said. "Our education is excellent and it will stay excellent [without the auditorium]."
Thirteen members of the public lined up to speak otherwise. Their arguments decried the school's lack of gymnasium space, which forces activities better suited for an auditorium into the gyms, they said. The school's basketball team's season ended early for the drama club, someone noted. The upcoming play, Curtains, has been rehearsed -- and will be performed -- in the gym. One resident complained that not having an auditorium dampens area property values, because it makes the school seem less appealing. And Brian Kelahan, chairman of the town library board of trustees, said an auditorium would enhance the Fairfield Woods Branch Library's offerings.
Fairfield Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller provided what many cited as a reason to shoot down the proposed amendment. The total bonding for the project will cost the town's median taxpayer $49 per year for the next 20 years, he said. Removing the roughly $6 million auditorium would save the median taxpayer around $12 per year, he said.
While public sentiment on hand was in full support of the bonding, a constituent letter read by RTM moderator James Walsh likened approving the bonding before the plan clears TPZ to "putting the cart before the horse."
Superintendent Ann Clark followed by referencing the "thousands and thousands and thousands" of students who'll soon pass through the town's public middle schools. "I don't want any child to have their programming determined by their street address," she said.
Then an impassioned Doug Jones, a former RTM member, asked who in attendance supported the proposal. Around 40 supporters stood up.
"And who's against it?" he asked. Nobody budged. Jones threw his hands up.
"Representative democracy, gang," he said.
Then the vote passed.
Also at Monday night's RTM meeting
"¢ First Selectman Ken Flatto gave a 10-minute update on this town's third train station project off of Lower Black Rock Turnpike. He cited "very productive meetings" with the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT). Talks, he said, are working toward the "full comprehensive plan," which would include 1,500 commuter parking spaces.
"All oars are rowing in the same direction," Flatto said. The state-proposed 500-space parking lot is a "theoretical failsafe," he said, to be used if talks unravel.
"The full plan is on the table," he said. "Part of that depends on the budget."
"¢ The RTM passed an amended version of a Board of Selectmen resolution to secure unpaid property taxes. The town will bid out all property tax delinquencies that exceed $20,000 and that are more than one list-year overdue. The sale will close on or before June 30, which will add revenue to the town's current fiscal budget. The past three such "lien sales" have brought in more than 100 percent of the outstanding tax payments and interest, said the town's tax collector, Stanley Gorzelany Jr.
Those liable can appeal to the Board of Selectmen on grounds of recent financial distress. Flatto cited large income drops or serious illnesses or injuries in the family as potential reasons for exclusion from the lien sale.
"There are companies out there that buy and sell liens because of the 18-percent interest they bear," Gorzelany said. "We would transfer the rights under the liens to a third party, and they'd have the right to foreclose, or the right to collect the interest on it. They also become responsible for collection of taxes."
"¢ The RTM approved $1.2 million in bonding to pay for repairs to the Cornell Road bridge and the sidewalks and safety improvements at the intersection of Fairfield Woods Road and Melville Avenue.
"¢ The RTM unanimously passed an ordinance allowing Fairfield to help form and join the Greater Bridgeport Council of Elected Officials.