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School construction, renovation plans face $18M funding shortage

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis, at Monday’s Facilities Committee meeting in City Hall.

Updated, 10 a.m., Clarification: Enrollment estimates contained in Silver Petrucelli report were done by Milone & MacBroom. 

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Public Schools is at least $18 million short of funds to pay for its plan to create new seats for school children.

“We now know the magnitude of the issue. And, you know, we’re going to have to sharpen our pencils and figure out what we’re going to do,” Norwalk Board of Education Facilities Committee Chairman Mike Barbis said Monday.

The shortage comes despite plans to add $20 million to the school construction projects via this year’s capital budget.

“The Mayor and I feel that working together, we can find a creative solution to cover this,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.

The construction and renovation plans are part of a larger plan to create 900 new seats for Norwalk school children and address decades of neglect of school infrastructure.  In order to apply for state reimbursement on school construction projects, all of the money needed has to have been appropriated by the City. The appropriations are short.

Revised construction program costs for five projects, calculated on March 12, total $176,908,599. There has been $133,843,000 appropriated and $20 million more recommended in the 2019-20 capital budget, which has not made its way to the Common Council. The resulting shortfall is $23,065,599; NPS has calculated that it can use $4,838,000 in other funds, including $2,138,000 from the project contingency fund, to reduce the funding gap to $18,227,599.

The projects are:

  • Jefferson Elementary School, renovate-as-new, revised cost $33.6 million, shortfall $5.7 million
  • Norwalk Global Academy (the existing Concord Street school), revised cost $34.6 million, shortfall $4.9 million
  • Cranbury School renovations, revised cost $17.2 million, shortfall $6.3 million
  • New Columbus School (on Nathaniel Ely site) revised cost estimate $45.9 million, shortfall nearly $4 million
  • Ponus Ridge Middle School, revised cost estimate $45.5 million, shortfall $2.14 million

 

The revised cost estimates are “remarkably close” to the estimates presented in 2015 by Silver Petrucelli & Associates in the detailed facilities feasibility plan, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said Monday at the BoE Facilities Committee meeting.  Hamilton noted that the firm’s estimates were subsequently “squeezed” during the resultant capital budget processes.

Barbis said Hamilton had been too polite and laid blame squarely at the feet of former Finance Director Bob Barron.

“When we first went with Silver Petrucelli’s numbers, you know, they were slashed by someone on the city side, who said, ‘Oh, it doesn’t cost that much,’” Barbis said. “How Bob Barron was such an expert, I really don’t know. But he, he apparently was. And ironically, as you heard him speak, or you’ve heard tonight, {the} Silver Petrucelli original numbers were exactly correct and we should have stuck with those numbers, and then we wouldn’t be looking at this.”

“The former finance director in an attempt to meet the dollar amount that he was comfortable with arbitrarily reduced these projects,” Adamowski said. “Norwalk has not done this work for many, many years. So this is a learning experience, the learning experience is that you cannot meet some codes, right? The minute you touch a building, you have to bring the entire building up to code. And you can’t renovate this part of the building and meet all codes, you have to renovate it all.”

The City submitted an application last year for the new Columbus/Ely project but there were some issues, including a disagreement with the State, and NPS decided to submit a new application in June, Jim Giuliano of Construction Solutions Group, the city’s project manager, said.

The drawings are now complete and Educational Specifications are being reapproved.

“We would like to discuss it with the State to see if we can start construction before the priority list (for school construction reimbursement) is issued (jn December),” Giuliano said. “It’s a long shot but we will try it anyway because we are so far along with the progress on that.”

Barbis reminded everyone that the new school construction is motivated by overcrowding.  Silver Petrucelli reports contain enrollment estimates by Milone & MacBroom done three years ago, and those estimates are on the money.  “They say the model is working,” he said.

“We are short on every front,” Barbis said. “The capital budget is about to get wrapped up. At this point, we don’t have enough money to proceed with all these projects (and the applications must be made by June 30).”

The issue was first revealed to the Board of Education a few weeks ago, he said.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Barbis said. “I don’t think based on the initial dialogue we had with the Mayor, you know, to get some kind of supplemental appropriation, we’re kind of little late in the game. And the city has other capital needs as well. But they’ve left the door open.”

Adamowski promised that in one month he would deliver a “specific proposal that will address this.”

“As you know, we’ve had great support from the Mayor in terms of funding these projects, we all realize we’re playing catch up for many years of neglect,” Adamowski said.

“The Mayor has already agreed to waive the city inspection fees, which total some $4 million,” Adamowski said. “And so that will take care of the Jefferson issue in and of itself. However, looking beyond that, it may be necessary to defer one of the other projects for a year and then refund that.”

The City recently took $5 million out of the appropriation for Jefferson Elementary to fund renovations at Norwalk High School. This year’s recommended capital budget includes $9 million for Jefferson.

Barbis had mentioned that maybe there should be a new school built on the Cranbury School site, instead of doing the renovations now estimated to cost more than $17 million.

“I think there is increasing awareness and concern that the amount of work that was recommended for Cranbury may not be adequate to its long-term operation,” Adamowski said.

Energy costs at Cranbury are high and there are exterior doors on every classroom, which is not recommended now because of security issues, he said.

“Again, this is learning experience,” Adamowski said. “Hopefully everybody has learned that as we approach further projects, future projects, we need to follow the cost estimation recommendations. But I’m confident that we’re working together with the Mayor, we will come up with a solution that would address the adequate responsible completion of these projects, and perhaps also address additional needs at Cranbury School. …  I’d like to come back to you at your next meeting with a specific proposal at that point that would have the Mayor’s support.”

7 comments

John ONeill March 26, 2019 at 8:12 am

Liberal Suburbanites created this scenario for Norwalk with their State policies set in Hartford — They should pay for it. Let’s bill our wealthy open minded neighbors.

Hello I Must Be Going March 26, 2019 at 9:23 am

John O’Neill, could these be the same wealthy suburbanites rallying hard against consolidating “their” school districts with Norwalk’s? Say it ain’t so!

john flynn March 26, 2019 at 1:30 pm

176 million? Sanctuary City allowing the masses in with no end in taxing the middle class. 18 million dollar shortfall, not referring crime to ICE, Norwalk is the welcome mat. We are very close to bankruptcy. The City is certainly ethically bankrupt.

No wonder the CFO quit. Take a lesson from NEON. Camacho needs to go immediately. Conflicts of Interest, mismanagement, shoving the plans down the tax payers throats, with only 3 people in the entire City stepping up vocally (D. Hempstead, J. Romano, R. Bonenfant). The City is borrowing funds beyond its ability to pay with no increases in revenue and many added expenses. More Salaries; more professionals, doing nothing. For example The Walk Bridge professional liaison hired has never answered a single question. The pension liability is a Vote enabler, and is never addressed. I downgrade the debt. I am shorting it, and will cover at pennies on the dollar.

I thank the three mentioned, Mike Barbis(D), Brian Meek(R), Mike Lyons, and ask for the resignation of Brenda Penn Williams. We need conservative financial vigilance and then look to liberally educate, not the other way around.

We need to limit the Common Counsel to 8 rubber stampers and lower the mill rate right now.

Mitch Palais March 27, 2019 at 7:48 am

Our schools need re construction

But this process is all messed up.

Norwalk is spending more money per seat created than what is spent in NYC. How can that be?

Saying the bids are coming in at the initial proposed budget just mean no one controlled the engineers and designers. There is no reason ( other than a hands off- ok to design the Taj Mahal) for these projects to be soooo expensive.

Then we can talk about our sanctuary city policies that created this mess with no end in spending in site.

Wait to see the tax bill when the buildings are completed- and all the extra teachers and admin are hired.

Mitch Palais March 27, 2019 at 6:04 pm

I’ll put it another way

If you tell your architect, construction manager, and engineers you only have xxx dollars to spend and they give you drawings frat cost a lot more- then maybe they have to explain why they couldn’t design to budget, as well as what different products/ solutions and design revisions could be used that would reduce cost.

Bryan Meek March 28, 2019 at 7:09 am

Good questions Mitch. Ask Bob Duff. Prevailing wage that requires brick layers be paid $72 an hour is more important to him than affordable projects. It’s why the state’s infrastructure is falling apart. We are being fleeced for 2 to 3x what things should really cost. Don’t worry tolls will pay for it.

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