As First Selectman, I understand that some of you will vote “yes”, and some will vote “no” on new school construction. However, before you vote, please take some time to gather the facts and understand the process. There is a lot of inaccurate information on social media.
First, consider how we got here. Last summer, the Superintendent received notice from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) outlining violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in our schools. Our accrediting body, NEASC, also placed our district on ‘Warning” due to the poor condition of our buildings, including issues ranging from lower level flooding, leaking roofs and windows, HVAC problems, hazardous materials including asbestos, PCBs and lead, and the condition and slope of the high school auditorium. Addressing these violations would require large and costly construction projects, and at this point, Dr. Cosentino determined that it was prudent to conduct a Facilities Study of our schools. The Conditions Summaries for both schools and the NEASC letter can be found here: http://www.newfairfieldschools.org/buildingprojects.
The Superintendent and BOE determined that the facilities study revealed enough problems with the structure and function of the schools to initiate a construction project. With the goal of obtaining state reimbursement for this project, the first step in the process was to prepare a “Request for Qualifications”, or RFQ, to identify an architect to prepare “Design Concepts and a Detailed Cost Estimate.” QA &M was selected, and both documents were developed using the Educational Specifications for each school, projected enrollment figures and eligible square footage provided by the State, the allowable cost per square foot and project development costs. The initial project was developed as a renovation, but when presented, was rejected by the State Office of School Construction Grants and Review (OSCGR). The agency determined that the buildings were in such a state of disrepair that they would not fund renovation, they would only fund construction of new schools. The Director of OSCGR attended the September 16 public hearing to discuss his decision. His comments on state reimbursement and the condition of our schools can be viewed at https://buildnewfairfieldsfuture.com/ here: https://videopress.com/v/xVV3Zw9C https://videopress.com/v/cLkni2Iw
After lengthy negotiations with the Director of OSCGR, the State agreed to increase the reimbursement rate for Consolidated by 10% and to reimburse the Town for site work such as demolition and refurbishing the pool locker rooms, reducing costs by approximately $6,000,000. Cost estimates can be found here: https://buildnewfairfieldsfuture.com/ The impact from the project on your property can be looked up at http://www.newfairfieldschools.org/buildingprojects. The hard copy of this document is available for your review at Town Hall, the Senior Center and the Library.
If the referendum passes, we move on to the next step, putting the design phase of the project out to bid. This phase includes development of detailed designs and construction drawings. The process lasts approximately 18 months and is subject to public review and at least three successive state approvals. The cost of the design phase will total about $5 million, including approximately $1 million for schematic drawings. Detailed schematic drawings are not prepared before the referendum for the simple fact that if the referendum fails, the Town would have spent taxpayer money on a design that will never be used. This is the same process that was used for MHHS, and the conceptual design presented for that project can be found here: https://buildnewfairfieldsfuture.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/mhhs-renovation-3-18-09.pdf
When the design phase is complete, the construction phase will go out to bid. Construction will be monitored by a construction manager, the State OSCGR, and the Town Permanent Building Committee, and the project must stay within the budget approved at referendum.
Doing nothing is not an option. Building two new schools is the least expensive option for taxpayers. OSCGR will not reimburse the Town for renovations. After lengthy negotiations with OSCGR, the State agreed to increase the reimbursement rate for Consolidated and to reimburse the Town for site work such as refurbishing the pool locker rooms, reducing costs by approximately $6,000,000.
OCR has agreed to delay fines for ADA violations until after our referendum. If the referendum fails, we will be assessed fines until the violations are corrected. Similarly, NEASC has placed the High School on “Warning”, but will change our status to “Probation” if we do not have a plan to correct our deficiencies. This rating impacts our graduating seniors when applying to college, and makes our Town less attractive to homebuyers, lowering property values.
Town leaders from the Board of Education, Board of Finance, and Board of Selectmen are moving forward with a sense of urgency on this project because the problems in these two schools are so serious — and to avoid additional costs that come with delay. We will continue to work with the State of Connecticut to make sure that whatever gets built is done soundly — and qualifies for the maximum amount of state funding.
– Pat Del Monaco, First Selectman