NORWALK, Conn. — Spend another $3-4 million and you’ll get a new school on Chestnut Street instead of a renovated school building, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo told Common Council members Thursday.
“It makes sense to me,” Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) replied.
Livingston wrote in an email Sunday that his comment “was the result of a preliminary review” which indicated:
“- A new building would be specifically designed to meet the educational requirements of the proposed program, as opposed to trying to fit the program within the existing dated structure.– A new school would have a smaller footprint (due to State requirements), thereby making better use of the current undersized lot.– A new school would be smaller and more efficient, thereby saving on ongoing operating costs.”
But with the Chestnut Street school building, currently the home of Columbus Magnet School, the math works out differently, “because the total square footage of the existing building plus the cafeteria is about 10,000 square feet more than what we do for a new building,” he said.
The old school rooms are oversized by modern standards and only 50,000 square feet are needed for the number of children who will be attending. Renovating the existing school requires work on 60,000 square feet, and at $550 per square foot for construction, “that’s $5 million right there,” he said.
Remediation costs at the old school are a driver too, according to Lo. In a renovation, lead-based paint must be removed from the walls, but the process is simpler in a demolition.
The existing Columbus community is expected to move to the new school planned for the Nathaniel Ely site on Ely Avenue, leaving the Concord Street school empty. Therefore it could be demolished if the new school option is selected, officials said.
Mayor Harry Rilling and Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski have been discussing the idea. “It sounds like they’re all on the same page now,” Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said. “I think everyone is working through this.”
“Our initial thoughts on the subject of new versus renovating at Columbus is, on the surface, it does make sense,” Rilling said in a Sunday email. “However, more data is needed so we can make an informed decision. It does not seem logical to put new money into an older building. Oftentimes, when renovating an older building, things are discovered that add significant costs above original estimates. Once the project is started, there is no going back.”