Architects present two plans for new Norwalk High School

Option A for Norwalk High School.

NORWALK, Conn. — Two options for the planned reconstruction of Norwalk High School were presented for public review Wednesday, in front of the Board of Education Facilities Committee and the Common Council Land Use and Building Management Committee.

Architects outlined schemes for a combined facility with a four-story NHS and a three-story P-TECH Academy, detailing the pain that would be caused if the new buildings are constructed in the same general area they are now (under “Option A”) and explaining that building the new complex entirely along King Street (“Option B”) would result in much less difficulty for students and staff.

No votes were taken. Leaders promised a public process to allow the community to consider which poison to pick; while there are deadlines involved, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said he’d provide a timeline of opportunity for public comment.

Both options exceed the $189 million budget that was approved by the State legislature, providing 80% reimbursement for most costs. Option A is estimated at $191 million and Option B would be $193 million.

Option B for Norwalk High School.

Option B, however, would involve rebuilding the athletic fields, which have a lower State reimbursement rate. And Option A would take 55 months, while “B” would take 51 months.

A summary. Update: the budget was approved in October 2020.

“Obviously we’re constructing in Option A a four story building close to County (Street) and Strawberry Hill Avenue, that’s going to be an impact to those neighbors. In Option B it’s a football field which will have lights which will be used in the evening. So it will have an impact to the community, generally speaking,” said architect Kate Jessup of Kaestle Boos (KBA).

Option B requires a bus loop on King Street. Students participating in sports would have to be transported to other locations during construction.

Option A would displace the softball players and for mean continuous disruption to the overall student body, as the four story building served as swing space and learning environments are shuffled about during demolition and construction phases.

“There’s some pretty significant impacts and when we think about the duration of construction from from an education lens, this is the entirety of a student’s high school experience here… this is something that will affect all 2,000 students who are attending the school in some capacity or other…It’s not just construction challenges and costs associated with phasing. It’s also got some pretty significant impacts to education during the entirety of the construction process,” Jessup said.

“We’re gonna have to relocate culinary and the cafeteria and the media center. Main office is going to be relocated, in a temporary location, for a while,” said Jim Giuliano of Construction Solutions Group, the city’s project manager for new school construction.

“From a transition standpoint and swing, as far as the school operations, (Option B) is the much gentler option as a relates to, you know, school and administration. Basically, the school can can continue to function as is. And there’s only really one single move in lieu of five different phases and multi moves and temporary swing spaces,” said Amar Shamas of Gilbane Construction Company.

The new building would be occupied in the summer of 2026.

“There’s no perfect option here … Really the first focus is ‘Can we fit it on the site? How do we fit on the site, is it possible to do it this way?’ I think this way we are. And that’s why we come into the the Common Council and Board of Education for for your evaluation and review,” said Lo.

Common Council Majority Leader Barbara Smyth (D-At Large), a retired teacher, called Option A “very risky to learning,” given the disruptions. BoE member Erica DePalma talked of the long term affect to athletics by building on the fields, as in Option B.

“I think the city has spoken, you know, of the lack of enough fields for city athletics. And you’re going to compound that situation by putting high school athletics on the same fields,” DePalma said. “And then of course, the maintenance of the fields has to be upgraded. It’s going to impact the students in high school in this moment of time, but also because it’s impacting city athletics, there’s going to be a trickle down, trickle down to the feeder system. And it’s going to impact the next four to five years of athletics after that.”

“Not to have their own home school for athletics is going to be very tough on these children that have lost so much already,” Facilities Committee Chairwoman Diana Carpio said.

The meeting drew several citizens to public comment, even if some said it was announced on short notice.

Tyler Fairbairn spoke as a King Street resident, inviting the decision makers to stand in his driveway because “some things might look good in a vacuum they might look good on paper, but in practicality they they don’t work out the way you you might think.”

“I would would implore you to consider abandoning that entrance on King Street,” Fairbairn said. “ Take King Street out of the equation, find a way to come in off a County and loop around or find a way to come in off a Strawberry Hill and loop around.”

“The street doesn’t have the infrastructure, I think, to manage this incredible amount of traffic that would come to the area,” said Adrianna Nassi, another King Street resident.

Jill Arvantis said she’d asked every month for an update, as an NHS parent, but “I just found out about this meeting Monday.”

Diane Lauricella, a concerned citizen, asked if there were other options. If there are, they should be presented to the public, she said.

“I currently have a question into the State Freedom of Information Commission to try to change the model this city uses for starting these building construction advisory committees. If you include the public earlier, then you can have a smoother and end point,” Lauricella said.
Council members, BoE members and the public alike pushed back on the “optional” nature of including a pool in the plans.

This dates back to the approval of a budget. When the concept was developed it was thought that the State would approve a $225 million budget but this was cut to $189 million.

“We elected to (fund) the design of the pool and see where we were with the budget in order to see if we could build it at a later date,” Giuliano explained. “We asked the design team, KBA, to locate the pool in in an area that would not impact the existing building or the new building. So that way, it could be added at a later date. So at this time, the pool construction is still an alternate however, the pool design is moving forward.”

Correction, March 4: Option A is $191 million, Option B is $193 million.


21 responses to “Architects present two plans for new Norwalk High School”

  1. Seriously?

    I have been a skeptic regarding this project, but now I see the proof that it is a disaster in the making. Either of these proposals destroys a neighborhood, putting a monster of a building too close to the street, whether it be Strawberry Hill/County Street, or King Street. Moreover, it destroys outdoor athletics for four years. Also, what does a King Street entrance do to Naramake School?

    Oh. And if anyone thinks that the total cost to Norwalk will be no more than the Council-authorized $45 million, I’m willing to make side wagers. Note that Mr. Duff’s buddy at the state construction office suddenly retired after a controversy, and so that relationship, thought to be friendly to this project, no longer exists, and this is the office that determines which parts of the project are eligible for state reimbursement.

    This is a project that was conceived in secrecy, even from the Board of Education (before it became the Board of Sheep), a project that is perceived to be a vanity project for a local politician, a project that has progressed as far as it should be allowed to progress, a project that puts a wrecking ball to the many tens of millions of dollars already spent on NHS in the past ten or so years. NOTE: The bonds for those tens of millions of dollars still need to be repaid by Norwalk taxpayers.

    You want to spend taxpayer money? Spend it on fixing problems with the current facility. Spend it in a way that won’t destroy neighborhoods. And you might still have enough money to build a new pool.

  2. John O’Neill

    I asked a very Senior Guy in the Construction Business about this: His response was “It’s like trying to figure out how to put 10 pounds of potatoes into a
    5 pound bag”.
    I’m all about improvising, but if anyone reading this actually believes this will be done for less than $200 Million, they also must’ve believed that inflation was transitory in the Fall. IF anyone thinks Norwalk will not end up footing a huge bill for this, they also must believe the Norwalk cops spit on Bob Duff not so long ago.(Thank God for Instant Replay)

    Norwalk will rue that day this project was signed off by city planners.
    If I didn’t know better, I would think those players who signed off on Oak Hills monstrosity in 2003 were pulling the strings on this future calamity.

  3. DryAsABone

    Next door in Scamford they only received 20% from the state, so Duff kind of delivered. EXCEPT it is just a down payment,for both towns.
    The influx of PPP,BBB, and whatever else is trickling down will vanish and all residents will be holding the bag. Again, next door in Scamford…replace more than a few schools, raises for all, hire like crazy, party like it’s 2022!!

  4. Maria M.

    Does this money have to be used for a new NHS? There are plenty of outdated schools in Norwalk that could use some facility updates, including AC so that they don’t have to close on very warm days. Why are we not looking to improve ALL schools and not just create a whole new project just to say we did? Is NHS desperately in need of this renovation?

  5. Piberman

    A few questions:
    Have any City officials released the total cost of this school project to City to be financed by City taxpayers ?
    Have City officials released estimates of the increased real estate taxes required to finance the proposed new buildings along with estimates of likely CT State funding assistance ?
    Have City officials released estimates of how operating costs of the new buildings will compare to the existing High School’s operating costs ?
    How many students are the proposed new buildings designed to house and how does this number compare to the numbers students the current high school to be replaced? .
    How much more debt will Norwalk likely secure to finance the new high school ? And the annual costs of financing that increased debt ?

  6. JustaTaxpayer

    Norwalk Taxes 2000 = $2800
    Norwalk Taxes 2020 = $8800

    Norwalk taxes due to new school and demographic additions????

  7. Laura KH

    Just use the mall

  8. Piberman

    City homeowners, comprising about 90% of our Grand List, face double whammy School constructions over the next several decades. Over the past 20 years our population has been increasing about 1% annually. Mostly from rental housing built Downtown. And our public schools are old. Norwalk High school dates from 1971, Brian MacMahon from 1960. Together with our traditional BOE policy of matching school salaries with our surrounding wealthy towns Norwalk homeowners face major upwards property tax pressure in future decades.

    The only major potential tax revenue offset is following Stamford’s example of using public domain to create a major business Downtown with office buildings bringing in major new tax revenues. So far there’s no enthusiasm for such a proposal. Norwalk remains the only major City City without a traditional business oriented Downtown with office buildings, etc. If building apartment buildings continues the majority of City residents will be renters, not homeowners. That’s a 3rd whammy facing City homeowners inasmuch apartment owners benefit tax wise from depreciation.So Norwalk’s property tax future is “interesting”.

  9. NorwalkFun

    @Seriously? and John, the ultimate cost to Norwalk is a question of how well we set up the project. Do we bring on a CMR asap and actually live within our ($189M) means? Or do we yield to NIMBYs at meetings like this, and acquiesce to repeated and costly design changes?

  10. Mike Mushak

    @JustaTaxpayer, assuming your taxes are correctly reported by you, your tax increase is explained by a cumulative inflation rate of 69% since 2000 (US Inflation Calculator), and an average Norwalk property value increase of 79% from 2000 to 2021 (Neighborhood Scout). Combined, your tax amount is just about right.

    You can blame the national economy over the last 20 years and skyrocketing housing values (which adds to your net worth), but you can’t blame local tax rates which are lower now than they’ve been for years thanks to a record increase in the grand list and fiscally responsible leadership.

  11. DryAsABone

    JustATaxpayer has a very good point. The tax increases have nothing to do with inflation. You can’t peg you local taxes to the US Dollar and other metrics. That would be convenient but disingenous.
    Looks at the payroll (Stamford refuses to publish theirs now)to see what really affects the taxes.
    We have had close to zero inflation for over a decade. Recent spikes do not explain away the soaring costs due to venal state and local employees. Malloy’s SEBAC agreement was supposed to save hundreds of millions but gee…the reverse is actually true now. Surprise,surprise. And who can forget how the state employees refused to DELAY their raises during the COVID crisis (just a delay) when the state needed to economize a bit.
    There is something seriously wrong with Corrupticut and when the free money dries up the piper will be paid…by YOU!

  12. Oversight

    How’s that Grand List looking folks?

  13. Piberman

    Having lived in Norwalk for nearly 4 decades I’ve never noticed a substantive decline in City taxes. No matter what happens to the CT or national economy our local property taxes predictably rise year in year out. Nor have I ever noticed a major increase in the City’s Grand List from one year to the next caused by a major inflow of major new business. City homeowners (single family/condos) continue to comprise roughly 90% of the City’s Grand List. So with ever increasing City employee rises homeowner taxes are pre-destined to rise year after year after year.

    Not too many decades ago Stamford was in the same fix as Norwalk with only a small commercial sector putting the tax burden almost entirely on homeowners. So far Norwalk’s leadership has consistently refused to follow the Stamford example and encourage a major business oriented downtown bringing good jobs, office buildings and important substantial Grand List additions. City leaders are proud of our low tax/low wage Big Box stores.

    There is no other large City in CT that follows the “Norwalk model” where homeowners provide virtually the entire Grand List and its subsequent tax revenues. That doesn’t suggest “distinguished leadership” to most of us. But the Norwalk model does have some disadvantages. Good jobs require commuting outside the City. Our kids move away to cities with good career opportunities/jobs. And relatively few homeowners retire here owing to the burden of increasing costs.

    Indeed, Norwalk is fairly unique among America’s thousands of cities. Most of whom have professional managers. We have a small shabby downtown surrounded by half a dozen upscale leafy neighborhoods. Where the good jobs outside City Hall are found by commuting. It’s not surprising why the Norwalk “example” is unique. Most Americans living in cities seek the opportunity to live in “real cities” offering good jobs, a chance to retire and affordable property taxes.

    Norwalk’s leaders over past decades haven’t shown any interest in changing the unusual “Norwalk model” to the conventional City model with a major business oriented Downtown. Moreover, they claim that “renters bring growth” with renters now close to complaining a majority of City residents. Those familiar with the substantial literature on urban economic development will be hard pressed to find admiration for the “renters bring growth” concept. Norwalk is just different from other cities. Over recent decades our population has grown about 1% per year. So we know the future. Mostly “more of the same”. Surrounded by half a dozen Gold Coast towns with a national reputation for super schools and active civic involvement.

  14. Lisa Wilson Grant

    I think it would be a good time to determine exactly where the burial ground used to be for the Almshouse/ Naramake Home which used to be on this site (encompassed neighboring Naramake School too). Nothing in historic archives or news articles seems to enlighten as to where this was.

  15. Piberman

    Anyone notice that when it comes to building new schools or making improvements with physical existing facilities our BOE and City leadership gets very involved. But they never seem to have the time to ask publicly how we can markedly improve the performance of our students most of whom fail to meet CT Edu graduation guidelines. Wonder if they just have other interests than student achievement. Or is it just a matter than new renters are attracted to our City by the physical appearance of our pubic schools ? And as likely transients not too concerned with student outcomes until near graduation,. With a reported 45% of City adults having 4 yr college degrees (US Census) its surprising student achievement problems meeting CT Edu standards doesn’t attract more attention in Norwalk. Aren’t BOE members elected to secure student outcomes that meet CT Edu standards ?

  16. Mr. Taxpayer

    lets all spend money like a drunken sailor !

  17. Mimi Chang

    @Seriously… Spot on. Mr. Kostas Diamantis, under fire in the news, was the gentleman in charge of construction financing oversight who collaborated with Senator Bob Duff on financing a new Norwalk High School that was not even on Norwalk’s Facilities Master Plan, and who recently resigned after controversy over alleged misconduct. Came across this article, which describes how his having been put on the budget staff of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) under the Lamont Administration in November of 2019 to bring the construction unit there was referred to as a “controversial two-year experiment,” where prior to that, the construction unit fell under the purview of the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), where Lamont flipped it back to this past fall after Mr. Diamantis resigned.

    Here is an insightful article:


    Article describes how some on both sides of the aisle in Hartford felt that shifting Mr. Diamantis’s construction financing oversight under the umbrella of OPM, which carries out the Governor’s agendas, created a situation where partisan politics was seeping into decision making on how school construction funding was prioritized and allocated, where they felt that decisions were made in a nonpartisan, check and balance manner under DAS. Interesting when one considers how the timing of the “controversial two-year experiment” dovetails with when Senator Duff quietly met with Mr. Diamantis unbeknownst to our BoE, and subsequently rolled out the announcement of the new regionalization Norwalk High School that nobody knew they needed, while electioneering. He promoted the school as a shiny, new gift to Norwalk families, seemingly as if to score political points during his campaigning.

    That the new Norwalk High School had to be a regionalization school in order to be eligible for 80% state reimbursement is obviously the by product of Governor Ned Lamont’s failed carrot and stick attempt to get Fairfield County towns on board with the school regionalization concept. Our Governor stated that towns who bought in would get more state funding for their schools, while those who did not would get less. Senator Duff circumvented our BoE and disregarded their vetting process by offering Norwalk up to tick the box on Governor Lamont’s political agenda, while going for the money grab. He came off like Santa Claus to the families of Norwalk, when his actions were more like those of a snake oil salesman.

    Parents unaware of Duff’s Follies don’t understand the push for a brand new high school and have asked, why not just renovate the existing building? What residents who “get it” don’t love is the lack of transparency around the reason for the new Norwalk High School, and how our Senator trotted out a bureaucratic political agenda via a shiny, new school which he hammered out behind the scenes in an unorthodox way with Mr. Diamantis, while promising that school projects on the FMP wouldn’t suffer for it. Now the behemoth building, already over the state approved 189 million budget eligible for reimbursement (so taxpayers take more of a hit) even before ground has been broken, is pushing funding for more pressing school projects aside while nudging Norwalk over the cliff on capital projects, contributing to our compromised AAA bond rating. For the disruption which would be caused to students’ high school experience with building on the school’s premises, it was discussed that building the design option’s massing may not even be possible on the high school lot’s raised topography, depending on if/where ledge is hit. Stop the insanity.

  18. Patrick Cooper

    @Mimi Chang. Brilliant summation, thank you.

    Will anyone listen?

  19. Seriously?

    See the link below for an update on Mr. Duff’s associate, Mr. Diamantis. I was expecting something bad, but this is much worse than I expected. If those people testify to what is stated in this article, someone is going to be facing possible life-altering consequences.

    If I were Bob Duff, I’d be trying to distance myself from this guy, but my recollection is that there was some claim to an alliance between the two that resulted in a Duff-Diamantis plan to get a new NHS building. After all, didn’t this guy speak at the press conference when Mr. Duff sprang the big surprise on everyone, including the Norwalk Board of Education?

    The NHS plan is a bad idea in any case, but now it seems tainted as well. The question I ask is: Is there something in this project that might have been of benefit to Mr. Diamantis or to someone he wanted to help?

    The governor wants to get re-elected. If I were Mr. Lamont, I’d order a close examination of any Diamantis-involved deals before I would allow any projects to continue.


  20. Jo Bennett

    It appears that the construction company owner in the article that Seriously shared is married to a state rep – and that he himself had political aspirations a few years ago. Sounds like this one could make the Rowland mess look like jaywalking.

  21. Piberman

    Its just astonishing that our BOE spends so much time and energies on new school buildings but ignores their primary mission – educating our kids so they meet CT Edu Dept graduation standards. Most of our kids don’t. So why is our system failing so grievously ?

    Here’s a clue. Many years ago attending graduation at West Rocks I asked the Principal why there were no Black youngsters getting rewards. She replied it long been that way. The kids have difficulty early on and never catch up. But get a graduation certificate none the less. It’s how business is done.

    I thought back to my elementary public school experience in Brooklyn just after the War when many of the kids had lost their Dads. Students were don’t allowed to “fall behind”. Teachers stayed for hours after the normal school day ended helping those falling behind. The Principal spread the word – “No one stays behind”. And meant it.

    So why can’t our local BOE adopt a similar policy of “No one stays behind” ? That requires teachers sometimes staying later in the school day. Holding school during extra days during especially during summer vacations and holidays for those needing special attention. No doubt extra compensation will be needed. But running public schools where “no one stays behind” is far more important than building fancy new schools.

    If a community really loves its kids it wants all of its kids to succeed and get a first class public school education meeting CT Edu standards. Some kids more attention. But rather than keeping them on the “slow track” till they graduate why not spend the effort to give all our kids a serious education.

    If we continue to elect BOE members and City leaders who aren’t concerned about “getting every kid to success” in our schools nothing will change in Norwalk. How can we respect either our BOE or City leaders if our BOE “leaves kids behind” ?

    Those who’ve served know that our military prides itself that “we leave no one behind in harms way”. Why can’t we have public schools in Norwalk “that leaves no one behind” ? That’s much more important than building new schools. Even if our BOE has other ideas. That most of our kids don’t meet CT Edu standards is outrageous.
    So lets demand our elected officials do what they were elected to do. Educate ALL our kids. Do it because its “the right thing to do”.

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