Short on cash, Fairfield board grapples with long-range school projects
The Fairfield Board of Education has a dilemma.
Its Long Range Facilities Plan for 2011-2015, which was a topic of discussion Tuesday night, has a total price tag of $38 million. That's about $11 million more than First Selectman Kenneth Flatto said he will allot in the capital improvement projects budgets over the next five years.
More worrisome is the fact that several board members believe some estimates in the long-range plan are low estimates. Approximately $6.2 million, for example, is slated for Riverfield Elementary School to address a host of issues. However, if the school were to get a full-fledged addition, along with tackling the entire check list of capital items, the project would more likely cost around $8.5 million.
Several members suggested the district hire a professional estimator to better determine the cost for work to 16 different schools as well as the Early Childhood Center at Fairfield Warde High School.
"How can you go and make a real good argument (to other town bodies) if you don't have that information?" asked board member Perry Liu.
While the Long Range Facilities Plan document has a total price tag of $38 million, the board was also simultaneously discussing another document, Enclosure 6, focusing on school buildings strictly from an educational standpoint, and has a higher price tag -- $54.8 million. However, that money would cure space deficiencies in educational facilities across the district.
BOE member Tim Kery said if Flatto holds steadfast to his plan to allocate no more than $27 million over the next five years, then the board must set priorities.
Catherine Albin said it wouldn't be prudent to approve anything at this time, Enclosure 5 or Enclosure 6. Rather, she said, members of the school board need to communicate with members of the other town bodies that will vote on the proposed long-range plan "because anything we approve will have holes shot through it on day one."
Chairman John Miola suggested the board could possibly, perhaps at its early March meeting, move forward with things that need to be addressed in the first year of the five-year long range plan.
"I think our focus should be what do we want to do for next year," Mitola said.
Vice Chairman Pam Iacono said the board should reach consensus on what projects need to be addressed sooner rather than later, and rank them, instead of the schools simply listing the projects in alphabetical order on the Long Range Facilities Plan summary.
"It's nice to have a multi-year plan," said member Paul Fattibene. "But my biggest interest and concern is the next fiscal year. Let's take one year at a time because the next fiscal year is going to be difficult."
"Our job is to determine the need," said Kery. A vote on the long-range plan for the board's March 8 meeting, according to Mitola.