$275 Million+ in School Building Projects Advances to Common Council

A rendering of the Norwalk High School.
A rendering of the planned new Norwalk High School.

Construction contracts for both the South Norwalk Elementary School and Norwalk High School were advanced on February 7 by the Land Use and Building Management Committee of the Common Council.

The committee voted unanimously in favor of a contract with the Newfield Construction Group with a “guaranteed maximum price”—or as Alan Lo, the city’s building and facilities manager described it as the “contracted price”—of $51.8 million for the South Norwalk Elementary School.  

The committee also voted to advance two contracts—one for $219.6 million and one for $3.7 million with Gilbane Building Company for the Norwalk High School. The project is receiving a special 80% reimbursement rate from the state, meaning that the state will cover 80% of the costs, but not all items are reimbursable, Lo said, so he pulled out the non reimbursable items into the second contract. That includes things like the concession stands at the football stadium and improvements to local roadways. The committee voted six in favor, with one, Council member Heather Dunn, abstaining from the vote.  The full council will now vote on approving both contracts at its meeting on February 13. 

However, Lo said that unexpected costs, such as soil remediation, could drive the price higher. That would mean the city would have to return to the state to request additional funding, or pay for it with local funds.

Lo said that due to the size of the high school project it was “more challenging”  than the elementary school, and so the city opened the bid process for it three times since Thanksgiving. 

Proceeding with Caution

Lo did note that, especially with the Norwalk High School project, there are some potential unforeseen costs, like soil remediation. If that requires more money, the city might have to go back to the state, or use city funds to cover the difference. 

“Our contingency right now, the way we set it up, it’s very low,” Lo said. “So what we’re going to look to do is that we have enough money to cover all of the projects and we anticipate as these bids come in we will look to the state to cover any differences that we may be short because we don’t know those numbers at this point.”

Some council members were concerned about being on the hook for more money, particularly Council member Greg Burnett who said that he believed the city should be cautious.

“I walk away from this discussion with a feeling of we need to proceed cautiously as it relates to other projects because taking on a project of this magnitude and this cost—as we stand here today, these unknowns, it sends caution that we have to really look at taking on any really big major projects until we have some more information as to what the final number is going to be,” he said. 

Burnett said that’s “going to impact other projects coming down the line.” 

“I guess my concern would be—and I think Mr. Burnett has the same thoughts—that we get down the road here and we’re short $5, $10 million and the city doesn’t have it, where’s it going to come from?” Council member Jim Frayer asked. 

Lo said that he and Jim Giuliano, the president of the Construction Solution Group, who is managing the school construction projects across the city, will be closing “managing these projects in a timely efficient way” to stay as close to budget as possible. 

“I gotta say, though, that on all the projects I’ve ever seen you bring in there’s always something left over at the end of the day,” Frayer said. “So it gives me some confidence.”

Importance of the Project

Still despite some concerns, council members and city officials said that they fully supported a new Norwalk High School and were grateful for the high reimbursement rate from the state.

“It’s incredible that we get 80% reimbursement—it’s a different world for us,” he said. “I mean think about 80% of $200+ million dollars is $160 million. We can’t build this high school without the state help on this project, especially 80%. So it’s an opportunity that we need to continue to cherish. I mean, I’ve never done a project—typically 20 or 30% [reimbursement]—80% is something that, it’s very valuable to the city.” 

Council member Barbara Smyth, who chairs the committee, called it a “gift to the city.”

“This project’s potentially transforming for our city and for our schools to have a state-of-the-art high school like this, it really is a gift,” she said. 

Lo also emphasized that the high school would have a pool, something that was initially not included in the state’s first approval.

“When the state approved a number, the pool, it was questionable whether that’s in the project because what they included wasn’t enough money to do the pool,” he said. “But since we added it back in, and the pool is in there.” 

Lo said that he believes they could probably be on site by March 1 and building the new high school is estimated to take about 3.5 years, with the new building projected to open in August 2027, and then after the students move in, the old building would be demolished. 

He said that they’re going to be meeting with the high school administration the last week of February to review many of the logistics ahead of construction. 

What About Sports?

Council member Jenn McMurrer asked for clarification about how the athletics situation would work. Lo said that the outdoor athletics would be impacted as the new school will be built on the existing football field, but he said that they were working to make sure students had a place to go.

“We are taking steps to work with the athletic director to figure out where he goes and we’re looking to provide busing to get the kids from high school to school to those locations,” he said.

McMurrer also said that she had heard rumors related to how this would affect other sports in the city.

“The rumor that’s going around or the information that’s going around amongst parents of younger children is that the other sports like junior sports like Norwalk Junior Soccer Association, and things are going to be displaced because of this,” she said. 

JoAnn Acquarulo, the city’s assistant building and facilities manager, said that the high school sports are going to be using fields during existing practice times, when the fields are used by school and not by recreation leagues.

“I did work with Ken [Hughes] at the rec department … to try to alleviate any time where they would go into the recreation time,” she said. “Because like I said they’re already practicing. I don’t think any of them—maybe a softball could possibly have used Brien McMahon later in the evening when we’re there practicing—but it’s very limited.” 

South Norwalk Elementary School

Lo said that the bids for this project, which is smaller in scope than the high school, were “very, very successful.” The project was budgeted for about $76 million, of which around $14 million was used for land acquisitions, leaving about $62 million for the school. So the contracted price of $51.8 million fell well under that estimate. However, Lo said that some of the remaining money would go toward softer costs like furniture for the school after construction as well as cover any unexpected costs. 

Lo said that they planned to be “mobilized by the end of the month to start work on the school.” 

“I think this project is scheduled to go through construction to completion [in about] a year and a half or so, which is August of 2025. So it’s very aggressive,” Lo siad. 

He said that by April 2025 he’ll provide an update to the committee on the status of the project in terms of cost and timeline. 

“By April 2025, we will confirm the completion date so that we know we’ll be able to open the school for the fall of 2025,” Lo said.


6 responses to “$275 Million+ in School Building Projects Advances to Common Council”

  1. Bryan Meek

    To infinity and beyond…….but more like throwing the city’s finances in the back seat of Thelma’s car.

    Kelly wrote “the project is receiving a special 80% reimbursement rate from the state“

    This needs to be corrected. The state has never actually reimbursed 80% on a project like this EVER. In fact the 80% New Lebanon School one finished at 49%. And ICYMI, the revenues are not flowing into the state coffers as expected (shocker!!!) and our spend thrifty Governor is even asking for belt tightening.

    Then there is the cost of money that is not reimbursable. Borrowing $220 million at today’s rates even if only $50 million a year is a massive amount of interest expense.

    And we don’t even know how much the environmental abatement is going to be. ARE YOU kidding me!!!! WHat could possibly go wrong there demolishing a concrete building from the 70s? Will the building be crushed on site? Or will we have to cut it apart and ship it somewhere that passes the myriad laws for disposing of this stuff.

    You shouldn’t be asking what if we run over 5 or 10 million. How about $50 big ones?

    And where is the money coming from for the other 50+ year old buildings that are in far worse shape than NHS?

    Try to think beyond cutting a ribbon on camera in front of these things please.

  2. Johnny+cardamone

    The new Norwalk High school open in 1971 and I began attending in September 1972 and it was already trashed with burned out garbage cans in the boys room.! And yes, it was a depressing building because it felt like a prison, however, they’ve done a lot to improve it, and it seems like a waste and a shame to knock down a solid building. Thats wonderful that the state is supposedly reimbursing 80% of the cost, though obviously they’re going to be a lot of extra hidden cost which in the end that Norwalk taxpayers will have to bear the burden. It seems the smarter alternative would be to build a third additional smaller and perhaps specialized high school perhaps in South Norwalk instead of spending additional fees on building a so-called neighborhood school on the dirty property of the old Hatch and Bailey. It seems the Democrats in Norwalk and Connecticut and the rest of the country have lied to themselves and the rest of us so long that their minds are in a continual state of delusion. And I haven’t even mentioned the influx of thousands of migrants. We will be expected to bear that burden as well, I had a price of $22,000 per student !We Independents and Republicans are not mean spirited; we believe what Jesus said love your neighbor, as yourself,. But we also believe in common sense and law, and order; both are in short supply today! I hope God gives us some sanity soon!

  3. Peter Sosnow

    Could the city consider leasing available office space as schools? Partnering with an office property to buildout spaces for schools seems like it could be a win-win for unused office space and lower the city’s building maintenance costs. Eventually schools could be turned into community housing while maintaining the fields and outside space for athletics and similar uses.

  4. John O’Neill

    I find the quotes/comments in this story amusing on so many levels. Alan Lo is an honorable man from what I can decipher. BUT, he seems to be holding back on what he thinks the remediation costs, misc costs will be. Why would he not throw us an educated guess? Can he give us a range? Even if the range is wide, at least it’s a number to base a vote on…Greg Burnett is right to question the potential fiscal potholes, BUT he still votes for the project? What? His gut and business smarts seem to be telling him one thing, but his political side seems to be telling him another…And of course, politics wins everytime.
    Mayor Rilling set aside $50 million in the “kitty” for this project. He told us that would be far more than would be needed. Well, if my calculator is working properly that $50 Million has already been consumed. Was Mayor Rilling being disingenuous, naive or manipulated? Only he knows.
    Barbara Smyth calls this a “gift” — What??? A gift from who?? Does the funding come from Lamont’s Wealth Management account? Duff’s PAC? No, that’s our freaking money. This is not a gift. Maybe a little change to keep our elected officials mouths shut about the lack of ECS Funding. Speaking of that — Why fund a city that’s 80% minority with those funds, when you can fully fund some All White districts within cycling distance of Hartford.
    I think Jim Frayer did an excellent job on the BET — Judging from above, he needs to remember how good he was on BET
    In summary, I I think there are costly items being left out of the equation. No one seems to care based on the vote.

  5. Tysen Canevari

    @John. You are spot on. I met Greg Burnett at the polls and told him I voted for him because I thought he was fair and impartial and did what was right. I must say though at the end of the day they all stick together. What Lamont wants and Bob and Harry want, they all get. They don’t think with their mind but instead just want to be relevant. Jim Frayer was great until he joined the council. He follows Lisa Shanahan and the rest of the followers. What a shame Norwalk politics is.

  6. Bryan Meek

    It’s not too late to run this city into a financial ditch.

    More warning signs out today with inflation still running red hot.

    A lot of these “free” projects haven’t broken ground yet. The demand for materials on top of macroeconomic forces and a “not to exceed” bid almost guarantees that MAJOR corners will be cut on these projects to get them to fit the number. This will cost Norwalk dearly in the future as repairs and maintenance costs will go up……or we’ll just ignore the building when it falls apart like so many of our other schools right now.

    Then there is the state, which is sharpening its pencil right now slashing education funding and who ultimately can decide to reimburse us or not. There is nothing forcing them to. They can sit forever on our reimbursement requests. which in good times can take years upon years for the state to process. We get to pay the debt service while they dither $230 million at 5% is $11.5 million a year (in addition to the $40 million in debt service we are paying this year).

    FYI….the state is running a $250 million deficit half way through this FY (coincidentally more than this project). California with its $68 billion deficit is our harbinger. The music is about to stop.

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