Selectmen in 2-1 vote, approve 441-size Mill Hill School
FAIRFIELD — The Board of Selectmen, a year after they requested additional information about the Mill Hill School project, finally issued their vote on the renovation project, a pivotal decision as the town’s Board of Education weighs redistricting plans.
With the support of Selectmen Chris Tymniak and Ed Bateson, the board voted 2-1 to approve $22 million in funding — $500,000 of that for remedial costs — for a 441-student sized Mill Hill School, going against what Board of Education and school officials recommended ought to be a 504-sized school.
“We’re going to be voting on renovating a school that desperately needs a renovation,” Tymniak said at the May 22 meeting that went over four hours. “I lean toward the 441 (sized school) and I do that on the standpoint...I don’t believe the site can accommodate a 504 (sized school).”
Tymniak and Bateson cited that the site would see a site reduction with additional classrooms and that population projections, to them, did not merit a 504 school.
“We’re talking about a renovation that is long overdue and I believe 441 has the best chance of passing fastest through all the town boards,” Tymniak said.
First Selectman Mike Tetreau, the minority vote on the board, said the new information the Mill Hill Building Committee had provided on traffic and safety was helpful and was in favor of a 504 school.
“Once you eliminate the safety issues, then it becomes a fiscal responsibility issue,” Tetreau said, citing that the cost for a 504 school was only 5 percent more — $22.6 million total cost — more than the 441 school.
Superintendent of School Toni Jones and members from the Board of Education advocated for a 504 school, citing growing student population numbers and upcoming plans for redistricting and racial imbalance.
“This building, it is growing,” Jones said. “We’re projecting, across elementary, to go up by 193 students just in the next nine years… with a 441 (sized Mill Hill School) we’re not helping really with the 50-year vision of the school.”
Though Tetreau has reiterated at previous meetings that the Board of Selectmen has no say on the redistricting process, the board’s Wednesday night decision on the school size inevitably affects the way school administrators prepare for the upcoming process.
“I am disappointed. I feel this decision was incredibly short-sighted, financially irresponsible and not in the best interest of our schools and our town,” Board of Education Chairman Christine Vitale said after the meeting. “I hope the Board of Finance will stay the course and vote to approve the 504 (sized school).”
The capital item now heads to the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting for a vote.
“Last night’s vote did not change the priorities and needs of the school district. If the final decision regarding funding made by other town bodies does not align with the Ed Spec, the Board will need to reconvene to decide next steps,” Vitale said.