NORWALK, Conn. – Board of Education officials are considering whether a brand new school would be more cost-effective and desirable than renovating the building that currently houses Columbus Magnet School.
A new school on Concord Street would cost about $3 million more than renovating the 81-year-old Columbus Magnet School and the layout would be safer for children, officials said Monday.
The life expectancy of a new school would be at least 30 years, while a renovated school could be expected to last 20 years, Jim Giuliano of Construction Solutions Group said. In addition, maintenance and energy costs would be lower for a new school.
Renovating would cost Norwalk $23.1 million, while building a new school would cost the City $26.2 million. The total cost of each project is higher; the costs to Norwalk assume $8.7 million in state reimbursement for the renovation project and $6.6 million in reimbursement for a new building.
The plan to update the Concord Street school, in accordance with an International Baccalaureate curriculum for elementary school students, is part of the second prong of Norwalk Public Schools’ plan to create 900 new seats for Norwalk school children and address decades of neglect of school infrastructure.
A new school would be built on the Nathaniel Ely site and the Columbus school population would move into it. Then the existing school would be renovated-as-new, according to the plan.
The plan to empty the school makes for an opportunity, Giuliano, the City’s project manager, said Monday to the Board of Education Facilities Committee. Architects didn’t imagine the costs would be so close when they started considering demolishing the building, he said.
The state has strict regulations for square footage based on the number of students, and since Columbus was built in 1938 it has extra space, including “undesirable” space in the basement, Giuliano said.
The state will reimburse a percentage of costs on up to 54,800 square feet of renovation, and the Columbus renovation project would be 63,500 square feet because an addition is needed to separate the cafeteria from the gymnasium and there will be 150 more students in the school, he explained.
A concept for a new school features 53,500 square feet and would put all the kindergarten, first grade and second grade students on the ground level, while the renovation would put the second graders on the second floor, Bob Roach and Adam Palmer of Friar Architecture explained. The music classrooms would be separated from the academic areas, meaning the noise would not interfere with learning, and the cafeteria and gymnasiums would be separate yet adjacent, a better arrangement for events, they said.
In addition, the bus loop would be off the street and the parents-only parking lot would be larger.
Construction costs are described as:
- Renovated-as-new 63,500 square foot school, $25,560,453; expected state reimbursement $8,725,907. Net cost to Norwalk $23,132,721
- New 53,500 square foot school, $26,740,782; expected state reimbursement $6,550,748. Net cost to Norwalk $26,154,014
Those also factor in different reimbursement rates for new versus renovated. Giuliano hedged a bit, saying he would have to come back to Facilities Committee Chairman Mike Barbis with an updated analysis involving eligible costs reduced by overages in square footage.
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said he hadn’t yet discussed Columbus with Mayor Harry Rilling.
“This is an 81-year-old building, which you have already said the layout is suboptimal,” Barbis commented. “For $3 million we can get a brand new school.”