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Norwalk education roundup: School construction; Costanzo lawsuit settled

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis, left, speaks about school construction Monday in City Hall as Norwalk Public Schools Director of Facilities Bill Hodel looks on.

Updated 10:01 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Some Norwalk education news for you:

  • Columbus School construction project delayed at least six months
  • Ponus Ridge project closer to budget than thought; pipe to cost $2 million
  • Costanzo lawsuit settled

 

Columbus delay: ‘somewhere between six and 12 months’

Plans for a new school behind the Nathaniel Ely Preschool Center have been delayed because “it took longer than anticipated to finalize the required property transfers,” Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis said at Monday’s BoE Facilities Committee meeting.

Norwalk plans to build a school on the site to serve as the new home of Columbus Magnet School.  Because Nathaniel Ely’s grounds are partly parkland, the city is legally required to replace open space which the new school grounds will occupy.  The proposal to use 10 acres adjacent to Norwalk Community College – to replace 3.28 acres of SoNo parkland ­– was approved by the Common Council in May and requires the approval of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

The Council in May also voted to take two adjacent parcels by eminent domain.  According to the City’s GIS, the acquisition of 4 Tito Court was completed on July 31.  There’s an ongoing court battle over 10 Tito Court, the State judicial website indicates, with a status conference scheduled for Jan. 8.

“Literally” the weekend before Christmas, the Board was notified that the Columbus/Ely project did not get on the State’s priority list for school construction, Barbis said Monday.

“It took longer than anticipated to finalize the required property transfers to complete the land conversion,” Barbis said. “The necessary acquisitions have since been completed and the application and paperwork for land conversion has now been filed with the state DEEP. We anticipate it will all be approved in the coming months.”

After the meeting, Barbis said the Board doesn’t really know how long it will take.

“We think it could be just six months,” Barbis said. “We just don’t know – it’s out of our hands and it’s really people we don’t deal with normally so it just takes a long time.”

It’s not just State officials but federal officials, he said.

“We need the National Park Service,” Barbis said. “No one’s told us but I am just assuming the government shut down – and there’s a lot of turmoil in the Park Service, so we just don’t know. But we don’t think it will be more than a year. We don’t think it’s going to be a year but somewhere between six and 12 months is our best educated guess at this point in time.”

The City needs to obtain 10 Tito Court to provide space for a regulation size soccer field, Jeff Cocchia said in May, when he spoke to the Council and promised to fight the eminent domain process.  Cocchia told NancyOnNorwalk after the meeting that the property is a “cash cow” for his family because it’s paid off and rented out, so if $50,000 a year comes in it adds up to $1 million over 20 years, he said.

Cocchia, Phyllis Dilorio and James Cocchia, the fiduciaries of the Estate of Arthur Cocchia Sr. and Arthur Cocchia Jr. and therefore owners of the land, are in the eminent domain process with Norwalk. A Sept. 28 court filing states that the land has been taken and that Norwalk has deposited $750,000 with the court clerk.

The defendants on Oct. 23 filed an appeal requesting that the court review the statement of compensation. The City on Nov. 2 objected, claiming that the Probate Court never issued a decree permitting Dilorio and the Cocchias to distribute the property. The City claims that the $750,000 may be in excess of the fair market value based on circumstances that were unknown when appraisals were made: when Norwalk acquired the title, an inspection was done and “potentially significant environmental issues” were found.

The objection filed by Assistant Corporation Counsel Darin Callahan states that the City seeks a third-party environmental consultant to evaluate the conditions, and asks for 90 days to obtain environmental reports.

 

 

Ponus Ridge math: subtraction and addition

Good news: bids for the Ponus Ridge Middle School expansion came in $3 million lower than expected, according to Jim Giuliano of Construction Solutions Group, the city’s project manager for the project.

Not-so-good news: it would be prudent to replace a heating pipe under the school, at a cost of $2.1 million, while the school is being renovated and expanded, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said, during the Facilities Committee discussion.

Problems with the aged pipe closed school for a day, NPS Director of Facilities Bill Hodel said.

“We made a temporary repair and noticed many temporary repairs in that pipe done over the years. As a result, since we are going to be in there abating the pipe insulation, it’s a good time to replace the pipe,” Hodel said.

The “entire heating loop” is in a tunnel that roughly follows the Ponus perimeter, Giuliano said.

“We certainly don’t want to find ourselves at the end of a $40 million project {and} then as school starts find we can’t open school because we’ve got pipes that have burst and so forth,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said.

Lo in September said the project was $3.5 million over budget. He explained Monday that the consensus had been $4 million over the last six months, as he and others did value engineering and a constructability review and tightened the project as much as possible.

Now, with the bids that came in on Dec. 18, “We are much closer to our original budget that we submitted to the state” as they’re “roughly $3 million lower than anticipated,” Giuliano said.

The project isn’t being done by a “contractor,” but is instead using a “construction manager concept,” so the “trade contracts” are the deciding factor in costs, Hamilton explained.

“The results of the bidding were very good news because originally, going into this, we thought we were going to be $4 million over plus the cost of the tunnels,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said. “So the fact that we are now down to somewhere over $2 million is good news.”

 

 

Costanzo attorney: lawsuit settled with no admission of wrongdoing

The lawsuit filed against the New Haven Board of Education and Frank Costanzo has been settled, the federal courts website indicates.

Costanzo, Norwalk Public Schools Chief of School Operations, was accused of sexually harassing a New Haven Public Schools employee while he was an administrator there.  Costanzo came to work in Norwalk in September 2015; the incidents described in court papers are alleged to have happened in 2014.  Plaintiff Chanel Renee Rice filed the suit in March 2017.

The federal courts website on Oct. 4 reported an order dismissing the case due to a reported settlement. A Nov. 6 entry states that either party could reopen the case by replying before Nov. 21; there are no further entries.

“This settlement resolves all claims against the New Haven Public School District, Dr. Costanzo and Principal Val-Jean Belton,” Costanzo’s attorney, Jeffrey Bagnell, said in a Monday email to NancyOnNorwalk. “The Board’s business decision to fully pay this settlement resolves this matter with no admission of any wrongdoing.”

Costanzo and attorneys for Rice and for the New Haven Board of Education did not reply to a Thursday email inquiry.

2 comments

Al Bore January 9, 2019 at 11:07 am

Over budget by 2 million before the project even starts is good news, really. When all is said and done it will be over closer to 5 million over budget, watch and see. No worries the home owning tax payers will pay the tab.

Jane January 25, 2019 at 11:19 pm

Who paid for the sexual assault case to be over,hidden,sealed ? Norwalk or New Haven ? And this is our next Super?

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