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The ‘Fix it First’ proposal

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25),  center, and Mayor Harry Rilling, right, on Monday alert parents to the facts that the Board of Education's facilities improvement plan would not fix most Norwalk schools for years.

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), center, and Mayor Harry Rilling, right, on Monday alert parents to the facts that the Board of Education’s facilities improvement plan would not fix most Norwalk schools for years.

NORWALK, Conn. – Below is the text from the handout provided Monday by Mayor Harry Rilling, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) and State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) in a press conference called to lay out a different plan to fix Norwalk Public Schools.

Fix It First Proposal – Modernizing Norwalk’s Public Schools Educating & Preparing Today’s Students

A plan to allocate resources on current buildings for current students NOW

 

Background:

  • Most of Norwalk’s nineteen current schools are deteriorating after many years of neglect.
  • The last long-term plan to invest in the infrastructure of our schools was 2001.
  • Not every school was included and investments did not continue under a new administration.
  • Other schools, like Norwalk High School, had a new science wing built while neglecting the rest of the In short, money ran out and new funding was not allocated.
  • Many parents and students have patiently been waiting for their school projects to begin only to see their projects continuously postponed year after year while overcrowding continues.
  • Physical plant issues like electrical outages, driveway problems, heating and ventilation issues continue to fall through the cracks.
  • Compounding the issue is that there have been eight superintendents in ten years.
  • The current Board of Education facilities plan endorses spending almost a quarter of a billion dollars on four schools (one new, two rebuilds, one with addition/re-build) when every school requires attention.
  • Parents are concerned, and rightly so, about the conditions of the schools.

 

Current Need:

  • With current schools in desperate need of repair and upgrade, limited city and state funds should be used to improve existing buildings FIRST.

 

Demographics:

  • Numbers don’t add up to support building prior to fixing.

School district is currently 103% capacity in total, according to the Board of Education. In their facilities plan, the Board of Education claims the need for nine hundred new elementary seats, which gets schools to 85%-90% of state recommended capacity and eliminates portables classrooms at elementary schools only.

However, elementary schools are projected to increase by only 94 students in ten years.

Total school population over ten years is expected to increase by merely 300 students.

According to the Board of Education analysis, peak growth is expected to take place in the middle and high schools.

  • Estimates by the Board of Education for this year’s student increase as reported to the state Department of Education were off by thirty students.
  • Enrollment is projected to significantly drop next year by 162 fewer K-5 students and 27 fewer students in pre-K. (189 total)
  • Norwalk’s elementary schools generally have school populations of approximately 450- 500 students. Jefferson is over capacity by about 168 students. Building classroom space and removing the portables at Jefferson is a less expensive alternative.

 

Current problems:

  • Jefferson School
    1. Using ten portable classrooms and lack of playground space
    2. Currently at 171% of capacity
    3. Overcrowded and fixes continues to get delayed year after year
    4. Current BOE plan is for work at the school to begin in seven 8Existing schools have not been treated with parity:
  • Cranbury School and Fox Run were built at the same Fox Run has a library addition and a multi-purpose room. Cranbury has neither.
  • Tracey School and Columbus Magnet School are the two oldest in the district and need major upgrades.
  • Norwalk High School had a new science wing built, but money was not allocated to upgrade the rest of the Heat, mold and crumbling concrete problems exist.
  • Existing schools (except Ponus Ridge) are not in the Phase Iplan,which begins in three The proposed South Norwalk magnet (Columbus School re-build) and Jefferson School rebuild are in Phase II and would begin in five and seven years respectively. The rest are on a fifteen year long-term plan. Parents cannot wait that long to see improvements to schools in need of repair.
  • Neither Norwalk High School nor Brien McMahon High School were included in the January 2016 School Buildings Assessment Report to the BOE Facilities Committee, even though a 2015 report showed major needs at Norwalk High School.

The plan:

 

  • Fix It First – Use precious resources on all existing schools before building new
  • Complete work simultaneously in three years by spending approximately $100 million with another 32.5% reimbursement from the state of
  • Construct addition to Jefferson Elementary to remove portables previously scheduled for 2015 per Board of Education Capital Request in 2012.
  • Construct Cranbury School one story addition previously scheduled for 2016 per Board of Education Capital Request in 2012.
  • Construct two story addition at Columbus Magnet School scheduled for 2017 per Board of Education Capital Request in 2012.
  • Add Norwalk High School for major repairs and Brien McMahon for minor repairs/maintenance to the
  • Not every elementary school is over Think creatively to utilize surplus space.

 

Community Involvement:

  • Norwalk hasn’t built a brand new school in decades – which is a Board of Education initiative and a city of Norwalk supported process. The state reviews applications once a municipality submits a plan. It’s time to finally have that discussion in a collaborative way.
  • Supporting a new K-8 magnet school should be a top priority for the community to consider.
  • Engage community to determine if another new school is warranted and Parents, businesses and taxpayers without children in the school system should all be consulted.
  • Create an advisory council committed to Meetings should be held in all corners of the city at dates/times when various members of the public can attend.

 

Advocating for Students and Protecting Taxpayers:

  • A Fix It First Approach advocates for current students at existing schools, spends limited funds wisely and protects taxpayers.
  • Elementary growth is small and rather than building new space, let’s fix crumbling schools and invest in all schools including middle and high schools.
  • Plan can be accomplished in three years for an immediate and short-term gain that all residents of the City of Norwalk can be proud.
  • Engage the community to determine if another new school is supported by the public at large
  • A win-win rather than another generation of students advancing in schools forty five, fifty or seventy years old without significant changes.

3 comments

Bryan Meek February 14, 2017 at 11:29 am

The BOE recommended plan will save tens of millions of dollars in transportation costs over the lifespan of the new buildings. This “new” plan doesn’t seem to address any of these concerns. Our transportation budget alone is set to rise $1 million in the next three years. Did this plan offer any analysis on these expenses?

For the Jefferson update, where would we move the portable classrooms? Or where do those 200 students go to school during its contstruction? This is the only space where you could even attempt to build an addition and even that would ensure the children would have no playground for the duration of the project. The BOE plan specifically creates “swing” space to avoid these problems and actually saves money because of the precautions that you need to take when dealing with hazardous materials and children in the same area.

2 story addition on Columbus? Where do those kids go to school while you are doing this? Where does the crane go? How much abestos is in that building? How do you protect the children from exposure during the project? Where is there playground?

1 story addition at Cranbury? Same questions as above. Plus, there are already 4 out of district school busses traveling over an hour round trip each day to get there. How many more would be needed and at what cost to fill a full story addition? Did this new plan ask the PTO who seem to indicate a Cafeteria and Media room are what is needed?

Given it has taken the BOE 2 years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and 1000s of man hours to develop its current existing plan, what is the plan to fully develop this “new” plan? WHo is going to fund that? WHo is going to pay for the staff to manage this? What if the cost estimates from 5 years ago didn’t include cost overruns for things like PCBs in the building like we just ran into at WRMS? We’re those cost estimates done on full architectural drawings at 2020 prevailing wage rates and 2020 cost of materials?

Will any journalist ask these types of questions or does it end with a photo op and a headline with a tag line that ignores the fact that the school district has been “fixing it first” for decades with the same results we have today?

Mitch Adis February 14, 2017 at 8:16 pm

Brian Meek is spot on. It is easy to say “add on a second floor”, but the details of how are difficult. Fix it first sounds great, but it will not be that easy if it’s even possible. We have been talking about this for years, but no action. At some point we need to start something, but nobody wants to be held accountable for the price tag. This is especially true during an election cycle. All the more reason for a 4 year mayoral term.

I would like to know where Bob Duff, Mayor Rilling and the others were when the $300,000 study funded by Norwalk tax payers was unveiled. No alternative plan was presented then. Why now? If we do not want to hear what the studies advise, why commission them in the first place. We as a city have a history of doing this too. Just look at the $500,000 study of the Main Ave/Westport Ave study.

All these “alternatives” do is delay the inevitable and progress.

Joanna Cooper February 15, 2017 at 10:53 am

Leaders??? Take your “Fix it First” cocktail paper napkin plan and shove it! The uncooperative, undermining, arrogant behavior of Duff, Riling and Morris is stunning. Your plan is ill created and unsound. The real plan it seems is a political stunt, pathetic petty backstabbing politics that just serves to undermine and delay any future progress for our students for generations to come through contrived chaos. They should focus on doing their own jobs instead of trying to run and ruin our school system. What experience do they have in running a school district? Senator Duff is a real estate agent, Mayor Riling was a cop and Representative Morris famous for having a no show job in the district for years. Shame, Shame, Shame!!!

The public ought to speak up because with this kind of support they shouldn’t be surprised when they see yet another superintendent walk out the door. They’ve made his job impossible, neutered the BoE, wasted a ton of money, time, assured no state grant and pushed off progress even further. The BoE’s plan is the plan our students need. Don’t believe propaganda.

Mark your calendars:
February 23 – Council Public Hearing on Operating Budget / Budget Cap – Place / Time TBD
March 22 – Board of Estimate and Taxation Public Hearing on Operating Budget – 7:00, Concert Hall

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.