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Duff outlines reasons to replace Norwalk High School

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) shows off a Norwalk High school water leak that he said was covered with paint to hide it from accreditors, in a Connecticut Senate Democrats video.

NORWALK, Conn. – With the Norwalk Board of Education deliberating options for a new Norwalk High School, State Sen. Bob Duff has taken to social media to emphasize why he believes a new NHS/P-Tech facility is needed.

Duff, who routinely ignores questions from the news media, has even gone so far as to reply to citizen inquiries in various social media locations.

“This school was built 51 years ago,” Duff says is a video showing himself leading a private tour through the school. “It was modeled after a prison. And most schools last probably maybe 30 years, 40 years.”

School officials and Common Council members chime in on the existing conditions; Board of Education Chairman Colin Hosten gives Mayor Harry Rilling the opportunity to repeat his assurances about a new pool, which is not currently in the project’s budget.

“Is it fair to say, here and in public, that a pool will be guaranteed as part of (the project)?” Hosten asks.

“Absolutely,” Rilling replies. “I’ve said it before, there will a pool.”

An aerial schematic of Option B for Norwalk High School, presented in a recent community forum. Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo indicated that this is preferred, but elected officials haven’t made a decision yet.

Tuesday’s choice

A summary.

Board of Education members may vote Tuesday evening on which of two plans will go forward as the conceptual design of the new school.

The agenda item reads:

Discussion and Possible Approval of the Proposed Recommended Plans for the Construction of the New Norwalk High School (discussion of related confidential attorney-client communication proposed for executive session)”

 

Kaestle Boos Associates Inc. has presented these options:

  • Option A is estimated at $191 million and would construct the new buildings in the same general area the schools are now.
  • Option B would be $193 million and put the new complex entirely along King Street.

 

While Duff trumpets the project as being subject to 80% reimbursement from the State through special legislation, the legislature authorized $189 million. Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said recently that he expects the total cost will be $225 million. That would include the pool. It was removed from the budget to bring the estimate down to the money authorized by the State, but the City funded a design to include the pool in the new complex.

A pool is estimated to cost $8 million, Jim Giuliano of Construction Solutions Group, the city’s project manager for new school construction, said recently.

Rilling said recently that the City is seeking an outside source to fund the pool.

“I’m pretty confident that the pool will get built,” he said. “Because everybody wants it.”

 

A tour

The video begins with a PowerPoint presentation set to music, a laundry list of issues:

The Current Norwalk High School – A 1971 Learning Environment

Ongoing Issues Include…

Auditorium
  • Sound and lighting systems in auditorium are older models
  • District has to hire technicians and rent additional sound and lighting equipment for shows
  • Lighting booth is not ADA compliant
  • Sound study was done and improvements are cost prohibitive
  • Stage not ADA compliant for performers
  • Wires are exposed and all over because of concrete structure and antiquated design
Choir Room
  • Only access is stairs, not ADA compliant
  • Bathroom in the choral area is original and not ADA compliant
  • Elevator is not possible because of concrete building structure
Band Room
  • Perpetual roof leak and is in poor condition
No Black Box Theater
Lack of Space
  • Trailers outside
  • Storage trailers in the parking lot
  • Trailer next to the music wing
Library
  • Completely antiquated
  • Not usable as multi-use space
  • No quiet rooms
  • No conferences spaces
  • No distinct areas for classes
  • No maker space
  • Second floor not ADA accessible
  • Inconsistent Wi-Fi because of concrete
  • Most elementary schools have better libraries
Cafeteria
  • 400 students at a time for lunch
  • Major security risk area with windows and doors on the ground floor
  • Configuration at food purchasing areas too small
  • Students spend half their lunch period trying to get food
  • Far away from today’s high school lunch standards
  • Visually unappealing area
Roof
  • Perpetually leaks on all four levels
Intercom system
  • Decades old and needs constant repair
  • Doesn’t work consistently throughout the school
  • Gymnasium does not have access to intercom
  • Lack of reliable intercom is a safety issue during emergencies
Security
  • Classroom doors don’t automatically lock
  • Too many unsecured doors for unauthorized entry and exit
  • 21st century school have double locking doors at entrance – also known as a ‘man trap’
HVAC unit
  • Undersized resulting in cold stairwells and hot hallways
  • Some classrooms are hot, some are cold
  • Perpetuates mold because of inadequate system
Courtyards
  • Not ADA-compliant and inaccessible to people with mobility issues
  • Space cannot be opened for any student by law
  • Compliance would cost more than $3 million
Bathrooms
  • Water pipes are encased in concrete and not accessible
  • Toilets and urinals are in constant need of repair
  • All bathroom faucets are older models that don’t conserve water
Classrooms
  • Not flexible space
  • Only have two outlets, one in the front and another in the rear, which is incompatible with current needs
Wi-Fi
  • Consistently unreliable
  • Internet fails daily in certain parts of the building
  • Will never improve because of the concrete
  • Costs three times as much as other schools to make IT improvements
Elevator
  • Student elevator is not ADA compliant
  • Cannot be replaced because of concrete structure
  • (Freight elevator was replaced but should not be used for student transport)
Pool
  • Poor air quality
  • Seating is not ADA accessible
  • Showers are not accessible for mobility impaired
  • Mold and chipping walls
  • Pool is not in compliance, thus the red paint around the boundary
Hallways
  • Visually unappealing with exposed cinder blocks
  • PCB wood was removed for health reasons
Gym
  • Mold and termite damage for over a decade
  • ADA seating half done because of budget limitations
  • Floor needs to be replaced, but cannot because of hazardous materials
  • Ceiling is chipping and needs repair and repainting
  • Poor ventilation system
  • Only one gym and it’s in use until 10 p.m.
  • Color guard, cheerleading, sports competing for time to practice

 

Many of those points are reemphasized as the video, watermarked “Connecticut Senate Democrats,” continues with Duff leading a tour, though he is the only speaker who can be heard clearly.

“This is where we took out the PCBs,” State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) said in a Connecticut Senate Democrats video.

Norwalk’s elementary schools have more up to date learning commons than Norwalk High School, says Assistant Superintendent of Digital Learning and Innovation Ralph Valenzisi. “You want” flexible open spaces, maker spaces, room for presentations and the ability to bring in technology. The concrete superstructure is not conducive to any of that.

School staff tried painting the cafeteria with bright colors “because it was so depressing,”

Norwalk High School Principal Reginald Roberts says.

“If we had to evacuate in here, where would we go?” he asks. “It’s an issue.”

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella says the cafeteria’s doors don’t lock and Rilling calls it “a security nightmare.”

The camera zooms in on cracks in the walls and Duff comments that school administration painted over a leak at one point because accreditors were coming to visit.

Council Majority Leader Barbara Smyth (D-At Large), a retired Norwalk High School teacher, said she was leading a class there once when construction work was underway to renovate space below her room and “the floor was shaking and … learning had to stop.”

Option A, which would feature ongoing demolition as the school is rebuilt in the same location, “is not possible,” she said.

‘Jeez, Bob’

“The BOE has to advance one of two options,” Duff said on social media. “There are also a very few in the community who think we should not move forward at all. I wanted to produce this video to show the decrepit condition of the school. It’s about 60 minutes of video edited down to 12.”

One person replied, “Jeez, Bob, what are you lobbying for here? I thought this was already the done deal that is going to pummel taxpayers in upcoming years.”

“Please share how this will negatively affect taxpayers,” Duff said. “Norwalk could never afford to build a school on it’s own with a 32.5% state reimbursement. City taxpayers would spend $127.5 million paid off over 30 years versus $37.8 million on a $189M project. That’s $90 million more to Norwalk. That allows the city to build a new state of the art high school while being able to continue to investing in all of our other schools.”

“Just because I am offered a great deal on an Audi Q8 doesn’t mean I can afford an Audi Q8. Will be interesting to see how this shakes down. Cheers!” she said.

Another citizen asked if there is another sizable lot available for construction.

Duff replied:

“There is not another lot available with the minimum acres that state requires on this side of town. (20 acres for a high school) If the city wanted to go that route they would either have to buy a neighborhood of houses or a business and that would be long and costly. The state would never reimburse or pay for that. Plus, every month the project doesn’t move forward it is hundreds of thousands in additional costs. It would be years to acquire the properties costing millions upon millions and then an escalated cost of the building because of the delays.”

 

Duff also found some support.

“We knew about these problems in the early 90s – major problem was that the school is built half on rock and the other half swamp land. A and B house has been sinking for years,” one citizen wrote.

“What’s happening with the New school in SONO?” another asked. “Couldn’t the money be used to build a new K-12 and NHS renovated?”

“We’re working on it,” Duff replied. “More info soon. Still have hurdles jump over like securing the property. Things are chugging along and it is a top priority.”

 

 

Version edited by NancyOnNorwalk, with remastered sound:

14 comments

Lisa Brinton March 15, 2022 at 5:59 am

When you have to make a video to ‘sell’ a supposedly 80% state funded high school to your community – you know it’s a stinker.

John O'Neill March 15, 2022 at 9:02 am

Bob Duff is quoted above saying most schools last 30-40 years. I decided to take a small sampling of schools in the area as a comparison:
Staples – 62 years old
Wilton 51 years old
New Canaan 51 years old
Danbury 57 years old
Warde 66 years old
All Saints (Central Catholic) — 64 years old
Joel Barlow 52 years old Thought I’d add Barlow in for our Union Leader
Stamford 95 years old
Greenwich 52 years old

I can go on and on — The moral of the story? In my opinion, Bob Duff lied about the spitting incident in 2020 and he’s obviously misrepresenting the facts to sell his proposal now. What’s sad to me are those who are picking up his baton and misrepresenting the costs of the project. For those not involved in materials and construction Labor and Materials are going thru the roof. I would like to have a beer with Jim Guiliano and get his real thoughts as to what this project will ultimately cost. As a betting man I’m setting the under/over at $280 Million and will take any and all action on that. Cost to Norwalk Taxpayers – $ 130 Million at a minimum in my opinion.

I would further argue that any deterioration noted above at Norwalk High School lies at the feet or City Hall. Many seem to be missing that point. That’s a large list of warts Duff brings up — Why were they not addressed when they should’ve been? We seem to have money to paint streets and murals but NOT classrooms. If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny. Pathetic all around.

Michael McGuire March 15, 2022 at 10:10 am

Senator Duff, this is a building, virtually all buildings can be renovated, modified, and upgraded.

As a steward of our tax dollars, it should be a minimum expectation that a Dachowitz level of scrutiny be applied here. Many times your report states “improvement costs are prohibitive”, but compared to what? I would wager a new school is 100 x more expensive than the collection of these repairs. 51 years old is young in “building lives”, just look at Europe.

Given the very high inflation rate government saddled us with, kicking this can down the road might be just be prudent.

As the past two years have shown us, taxpayers really need to see the science (in this case the comparative reports, by unbiased professionals). Anything less is not putting the Norwalk taxpayer first.

Priscilla Feral March 15, 2022 at 10:52 am

State Sen. Bob Duff makes a persuasive case to replace Norwalk High School, and his video illustrates why Norwalk’s students deserve a “21st century learning environment.”

Piberman March 15, 2022 at 11:08 am

Most of our Norwalk students have not been meeting CT Education Dept graduation standards because of the condition of our schools. And building new schools won’t improve our failing school system. Any more than paying CT’s highest Supt salary above $300k will.

Schools failing to meet State Edu Dept standards in a City with well above national per capita income in the nation’s wealthiest State is outrageous. Yet our BOE has no public plans for improvement. Nor our overpaid school administrators. Nor have our City officials in City Hall or Common Council expressed major concern. Why are our leaders so indifferent ?

The most important gift we can give our kids, especially the minority kids who make up the lions share of our public schools, is a solid public school eduction meeting CT Edu Dept standards. Giving them the basis to secure a 4 yr college career and pursue the American Dream.

Time for Sen Duff to raise his voice to improve our City’s failing schools. Mayor Rilling too. Our City’s Dem leaders ought speak up. If our BOE members can’t do better then please resign so more capable and motivated citizens can step forward. Lets withhold spending on new schools until our BOE comes up with a public plan and accountability to improve our schools so they meet CT standards.Do we need a more capable Supt ? How has student performance increased since hiring CT’s highest paid Supt ?

CT Edu Dept stats also show most Norwalk students never secure 4 yr college degrees. Yet Norwalk’s BOE and City officials never ask publicly why Norwalk is CT’s only City without a 4 yr college. Just a 2 yr CC good enough for our school students ?
Even in a City where half the adults have 4 yr college degrees ? Why are City officials not interested in securing a 4 yr college for Norwalk ? Indifferent ?

Aren’t there any Norwalk elected officials deeply upset by our failing public schools ?
Or are they just interested in building new schools to show they “care” ?

Mack March 15, 2022 at 12:20 pm

So Bob thinks that school buildings only have a life expectancy of 30 to 40 years?? How absurd! The long list he presents of problems that he pulled out of his hat to support his desire to demolish the 51 year old building and construct new don’t represent anything that can’t be fixed, or corrected, in order to extend and continue the life, health, safety and economical usefulness of this 51 year old building. Absolutely nothing and I would challenge him to debate them individually, one by one, in a public forum, with those that oppose his crazy, foolish proposal. Anyone that knows the NHS building can see right thru his smoke and mirrors story. I for one am so, so tired of being told that the school was designed by the architects (Architects Collaborative, Cambridge, Mass) to resemble a prison. This is not true. The stairways/towers are cool in the winter and warm in the summer because they have minimum heat for freeze protection and no cooling.
This is how they are designed and built. Why waste energy and costs on providing hvac for space that is for egress only? And by the way Bob, the hallways are hot because they never had hvac, which you typically don’t provide in such non occupied spaces. An overwhelming majority of items on Bob’s list can be directly linked to normal mechanical equipment wear and tear (that can be replaced and upgraded) which represents the end of life cycle costs analysis, or the obvious lack of normal & routine maintenance and repair
that is not being provided, by the district facilities maintenance dept. Frankly, you don’t find these types of situations taking place in the private sector, or at other well run public school districts, where their buildings and infrastructures are viewed as assets, and not as liabilities, as they are in Norwalk. Over a very short period of time, poorly planned and executed facilities management practices create these expensive and unnecessary situations. When will the debate take place Bob?

Ben G March 15, 2022 at 1:32 pm

Its an election year so Bob is trying his hardest to be front and center.

If he had only done his job for the last 15 years and brought Norwalk the money it was due than maybe the schools would have been maintained properly and there would be no reason for this pipe dream of a new school that will surely bankrupt Norwalk.

That said, the BOE also deserves its criticism here since they spend money on complete nonsense instead of actually maintaining the buildings of NPS.

No one should be fooled by any of this. Its a classic shiny object distraction. Bob has done nothing for the taxpayers of Norwalk and now he wants to sell you a new school that will cost an absurd amount of money and will receive nowhere near the reimbursement rate that he touts. It really is a shame that people like him who are elected to represent others can be so incredibly disingenuous.

DryAsABone March 15, 2022 at 4:53 pm

Are you certain Norwalk is paying top dollar? Read the addition to Stamford’s to get the whole package:
https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/New-contract-pays-400-000-in-salary-perks-for-16785559.php#:~:text=Under%20the%20new%20contract%2C%20which,year%20to%20roughly%20%24295%2C000%20annually%20.

It was bad enough in 2019!!
https://www.stamfordpublicschools.org/sites/g/files/vyhlif3841/f/uploads/lucero_2019-2022.pdf

And she is no well liked by the rank and file OR the parents! Imagine what she would get is she was popular.

Doesn’t add up at all March 15, 2022 at 6:11 pm

Bob Duff can twist the narrative all he wants. Know this. Since the cost estimate was revealed, commercial construction costs have increased 30-40%!!!

This would drive the price from $220 to $308,000,000 Without a pool!!!

Couple that with:

– A state that is in fiscal shambles and has not paid other towns back the promised 80%
– Pool was not included in the original estimate. Duff is shopping for a benefactor at 50%.
– Pool Estimate at 8-9 million. Seriously? You could maybe build just the pool for that. But NEVER the building that the pool needs to be in.

Folks. This all about Duff and Hartfords incredibly progressive agenda which includes regionalization.

Does the school need work. For sure! So figure out how to fix it, or acquire land elsewhere then monetize the current NHS property to pay for the new school without 5-6 years of disruptive construction.

This is real folks. The fleecing of our town continues.

Skip Hagerty March 15, 2022 at 7:45 pm

How about a $20 million refurb instead? Bob is a typical politician….he tries to bribe the electorate with their own tax dollars. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bob has some of his mindlessly loyal supporters lobby to have the school named after him. Shameless.

Seriously? March 15, 2022 at 10:36 pm

So much to say in response. . ..

1. Bemoaning the fact that NHS is 51 years old fails to take into account the ages of so many other schools that are much older.

2. Some of the alleged deficits of NHS are also experienced at BMHS, so should we be talking about major work there, too?

3. If the architects are saying that NHS can’t be improved because it is a concrete building, then you need to find better architects.

4. How about remembering that the city has already put $40 million into renovations and other improvements? Those bonds still have to be paid, even if the entire school is demolished, so add $40 million to the real cost of the new building.

5. Also, anyone who thinks the eventual cost of a new building will really be $225 million isn’t taking into account the record level of inflation that has developed since this project was proposed. Wait until contractors submit their bids, which will be higher because of higher energy costs to produce the building materials and to pay for transporting them and to pay for the higher fuel costs the contractors have to pay. This may cost far more, and the state won’t be paying the difference. Wait until the special interest groups make greater demands for their particular parts of the project. Wait until the change orders begin.

6. As I have already said elsewhere on this site, the duration of this project will affect the entire high school careers of one group of students, and it will be a very uncomfortable time, especially because students have already suffered from the impact of Covid-19 on the school system, but also on their psychological state. Another group will be affected for nearly all of their high school careers. Another will be affected for half of their high school careers. Just stop and think about this for a minute.

7. Oh, and the chairperson of the board of education didn’t disappoint. His concern? A pool. That is certainly important to some people, but the chairperson could have expressed so many other student-centered concerns.

David March 16, 2022 at 7:38 am

Everyone talked about creating schools that give our children an opportunity to be a part of the economy of the future. P-Tech expansion allows exactly that. My children will likely be finished with school before they can take advantage of the new high school, but this is great for norwalk. It is great for property values. It will be great for attracting new residents and businesses to the city as older residents retire and cycle out of the area for Warner climates.

Alan L Kibbe March 16, 2022 at 11:08 am

It is interesting to note that Marcel Breuer’s iconic Armstrong Tire office building which sits in front of IKEA in New Haven is being repurposed into the luxury Hotel Marcel by Hyatt. This building, in the same “brutalist” architectural style as NHS, predates our school building, yet will now serve a useful purpose. With an imaginative architect, we could retain our existing built-for-the-ages structure and create something that other communities would envy.

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