Quantcast

Norwalk BoE goes for plan ‘B,’ NHS along King Street

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Colin Hosten, center, and Board Secretary Godfrey Azima, right, listen to an opponent of the plan to build a new Norwalk High School, Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Board of Education members have chosen “Option B” as their preferred plan for a new Norwalk High School. Two members voted against both plans.

The vote came Tuesday after an extensive conversation about how athletics would be handled as the school is built on what is now the football field, and a pronouncement from Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo that the pool is now in the budget, given support from Mayor Harry Rilling and Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E).

Board members also spent about an hour in executive session with Attorney Tom Mooney of Shipman & Goodwin. When they emerged, Mooney explained their legal responsibilities in choosing one of the two plans.

  • Option A was estimated at $191 million and would have constructed the new buildings in the same general area the schools are now. (Lo said Tuesday the budget is $225 million.)
  • Option B was described as $193 million and would put the new complex entirely along King Street. (Lo said Tuesday the budget is $225 million.)

The City owns the land and State Statute provides for joint responsibilities for school construction projects, with the Board of Education serving “as the agent of the state to implementing the educational interests of the state by educating the children of Norwalk,” Mooney said.

Multiple parents had spoken to the Board, asking that the plan be tabled.

“Find a better solution,” Meghan Hopkins said. “… The plans presented are both terrible options for the students and staff at Norwalk High School and the community that utilizes the facilities, having to spend their entire high school career at a construction site and compromise their athletic opportunities in high school and beyond, is unacceptable. Get ready for lots of transfers to McMahon.”

The City has asked the BoE for its preference, Mooney explained.

“The responsibility for the construction remains with the city. And it’s just out of consideration for the Board of Education that the city has presented these two options,” he said.

Board of Education member Erica DePalma restated his thoughts.

“The Board of Education is not deciding on whether or not the school moves forward, we are very simply deciding between options A and B as the city came for it, as a courtesy to us, to allow us to recommend our preference between A versus B,” she said.

Scott Mangiagli and Paul Dominov of Kaestle Boos Associates Inc. present Option B for a new Norwalk High School/P-TECH Academy during a community feedback meeting.

Yes to a pool

Much of the controversy about the project has revolved around the pool. A petition titled, “Save the NHS Pool!!” garnered 879 signatures.

When State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) announced a surprise plan to build a new Norwalk High School, developed in consultation with then-Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and City leaders, the big hinge making it possible was a promised 80% reimbursement from the State.

Ordinarily, the best Norwalk can hope for is 32.5% state reimbursement.

But the concept was designed with a $225 million budget in mind and the legislature approved $189 million. The pool was removed from the budget to bring the estimate down to the money authorized by the State, though the City funded a design to include the pool in the new complex.

Still, the Common Council authorized $50 million for the project, much more than the $38 million needed to meet the City’s 80% share of $189 million. Even if it were $225 million, the City’s share would be $45 million.

Duff has repeatedly said the pool will get 50% reimbursement from the State.

With the $50 million that’s been authorized for bonding, “the City funding is available to do the pool, but we need to go to State to see if we can seek the balance the funding to complete the funding package,” Lo said Tuesday.

“What he is saying is there is funding for the pool if we need it,” Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King said in an email to NancyOnNorwalk. “Our portion of the pool is only $4 million and there is an extra $12m already approved. As we have said many times, we also have a philanthropist who may be interested in paying for the City share, but the bottom line, as the mayor and council President confirmed last week – is that the pool will be funded.”

Rilling and Livingston released a statement last week, saying, “We want to be clear, the City and Board of Education have always expected to include a pool in the project. We all agree a community of our size, particularly a waterfront community, must have a swimming pool.”

The pool will cost $7.9 million, Lo and Jim Giuliano, the city’s project manager for new school construction, told NancyOnNorwalk after the vote. That includes the enclosure, lockers, mechanicals, and projections to factor in escalating costs.

The sports complex is $9.4 million, Giuliano said.

 

Concessions to neighbors, addressing concerns

King Street residents have objected to “Option B,” fearing bus traffic.

Lo said Tuesday that the new plan eliminates a driveway off King Street. A hidden-style of emergency egress is planned, with pavement under grass and a gate with a padlock, that first responders would cut off.

No neighbors spoke Tuesday. Lo said the City had met with them last week.

An additional row of trees has been added to the plan, providing more screening from the street, Lo said.

The design already had the lower buildings closest to the street.

“P-tech is a three-story building, Norwalk High School is four-story building, so we kept it more towards the middle of the property,” Lo said. “That will reduce the impact on the neighborhood.”

At least one critic, Diane Lauricella, has suggested there might be ledge where the City plans to build the school.

Lo said he was responsible for the football field project back in 2001 and, “we dug down out at least two to three feet” and found debris and trees, but no ledge. Pilings go down three feet six inches and “we were almost halfway there.”

The City found ledge when it built an addition onto Ponus Ridge Middle School, and “we will manage it,” Lo said, adding that he thinks it’s more likely that there’s ledge where Option A would be built.

“If anything, concerned about subgrade conditions is probably we may still find a soft spot,” Lo said.

Diana Carpio and Kara Nelson Baekey voted against both options.

Nelson Baekey asked Lo about disposal of the petroleum-based turf field. Lo said it’s possible the turf could be recycled and used on site. “The timing may not work. So again, there’s still a lot of things to be worked out in the next year and a half to two years as a design and construction strategy.”

“I will be concerned about the safety hazards around that, release of those chemicals into the air with students on campus. And I would want to understand that,” Nelson Baekey said.

Carpio asked if the air and water will be tested for chemicals during construction.

“I don’t know the specific answer. We would have to comply with all the regulations that’s in place in the industry,” Lo said.

The Board spent considerable time hearing about the plan for students to play sports at other facilities. Norwalk High School Athletic Director Doug Marchetti detailed extensive options. Lo said student transportation is included in the construction budget, it won’t be paid for from the schools funding.

Some new fields could potentially be built sooner than expected, Lo said. Staging is needed for construction materials but once the building envelop is done, grading might begin for fields, which might be ready four to nine months after the new building opens.

 

Voting

No one voted for Option A. Option B was chosen with a 7-2-0 vote. Again, Carpio and Nelson Baekey cast the no votes.

“I know it hasn’t been easy and the construction never is,” Board of Education Chairman Colin Hosten said. “But I do feel strongly that in the long run this will be in the best interest of Norwalk public schools.”

14 comments

WHY? March 16, 2022 at 11:06 am

Any plan to build an entire new high school is irresponsible at best. But if you want to provide another reason for families with the means to flee Norwalk this is it. It’s so dumb it’s hard to believe.

Andrew Anello March 16, 2022 at 11:37 pm

Are there any parents of students and/or Norwalk taxpayers who have commented favorably about this?

I’m only able to find negatives.

David March 17, 2022 at 6:48 am

Andrew: yes, plenty of parents have, they just don’t go ‘squeaky wheel’ on websites like this one. The BOE votes for these kinds of proposals because they know the broader electorate is the only comments section that matters.

In general, however, if it costs money or contributes to traffic, there will be a flood of ‘the end is nigh’ comments to the story (occasionally we’ll get a ‘wake up people!’ Those are my favorite).

On a personal level I think this is a great idea. The parents of kids I am friends with think the same – even though it’s unlikely our kids will get to use the new school. It’s still good for the city, good for property values. An expanded P-Tech is huge! The programs on offer at our high schools – current abs future – are exactly the kinds of skills our kids will need as they go out into an evolving world.

To get back to your question, people don’t usually come to NoN to say that, especially when they see the city leadership giving them what they ultimately want.

Patrick Cooper March 17, 2022 at 3:16 pm

@Andrew, only those who enable our local politicians speak like David here, with his vast sweeping generalizations – oh, those are my favorite!

With a brief search on google, the Hour, and NoN, you can gather much of the media coverage for this project from inception. But like an iceberg – 90% of the story is opaque.

The fact is this project was never on the BOE facilities “priority list” of school repair/ construction needs, it was cooked up by Bob Duff and a guy by the name of Kosta Diamontis (who is under FBI investigation) as a way to use already bonded funds to build a vanity project for Bob – that would also be a feather in a progressive agenda for “regionalization” of schools. This project would never work if not for the planned additional kids from other districts (with Bridgeport & Stamford given preferred status).

The fact is – the promises from the beginning (2 years ago) have never passed the smell test. The same goes for right now. The math presented by Duff continues the misinformation of a 189 million dollar cost – with 80% reimbursement. Allan Lo (see above) is repeatedly on the record as estimating the total cost at 225 million – with a pool, without a pool, that’s all a distraction (but effective because it matters to the parents). That cost overrun is 36 million – and no one is on the record for what the true, final – total cost will be to Norwalk. What if – considering all of the inflationary pressures, fuel cost & material cost increases, labor shortages, change orders, etc., etc., the final, total cost goes to 250 million (it could be higher still), and Norwalk is told by a state that is facing its own fiscal cliff – sorry, can only provide 70% on the original 189 – and now – Norwalk has a 100+ million dollar cost when we bonded for 50 million.

Now – the cities CFO has warned the mayor and the common council, that our debt spending – financing projects with borrowed money – is threatening our AAA rating, which would trigger higher borrowing costs in the future. So there is that little problem. Has the mayor addressed a simple question: at what total cost to Norwalk is this project unfeasible? 75 million? 100 million?

So, forget the fact that this was unplanned for, unwanted, and far down the priority list of school needs. Forget we have millions of debt dollars we are still paying for related to fixes and repairs done on the very high school that will be demolished with this project – yes – like totaling a car you still have payments on. Forget the fact we just endured another contentious BOE operating budget session where the city could not / would not fund the “ask”. Forget the fact this project will add to those future operating costs – immensely. Oh and lastly – forget the 4-6 year disruption for the kids who have just endured 2-3 years of Covid disruption. Politicians love to say – it’s all about the kids. When it is never about the kids.

So yea, you make a good observation. No one wants this who understand the true broad impact on the city. Folks like David go straight to the local smear handbook and roll out “Naysayers” when common sense people push back on purely political, poorly conceived, potentially devastating plans. Listen to your own intuition.

David March 18, 2022 at 6:53 am

Well there you go Andrew, you have two opposite opinions. You’ll likely be drawn closer to one over the other, and advocate for you opinion through lobbying (enabling) political leadership and voting your opinions in November. The foundation of a strong democratic, civil society.

Jim Tru March 18, 2022 at 1:58 pm

Patrick Cooper hit the nail on the head with his comment!

A project no one wanted, needed or can afford…. all at the expensive of the kids that will have to live through this construction turmoil.

It will effect more that just the kids going to NHS. Brien McMahon students will now share their field time, local youth sports will be bumped to accommodate the lack of fields. All so we can open our schools to kids from Bridgeport and New Haven?

How does any of this actually address the quality of education that we currently can barely fund?

DrewT March 19, 2022 at 5:14 pm

@david you say there are plenty of parents that want this nightmare. WHERE ARE THEY?! Not once on various social media platforms, articles, hearings has 1 parent come forward and said they are for this. It’s not even a for/against project. The math and their numbers don’t work! This project regardless of option will basically bankrupt the City! We won’t be able to fill a pothole! This must not be build! Listen and Watch the video!

Seriously? March 20, 2022 at 4:36 pm

I am a registered Democrat, but I vote with my head, not necessarily along a party line on a ballot, and I believe that one-party government is against the interests of this–or any– community. This project moved along so easily because there weren’t independent thinkers on the Council to vote against it. Worse yet, there weren’t enough Board of Education members with sufficient backbone to tell Bob Duff to back off so it could focus on the schools that need immediate work. Note that this is the same Bob Duff who stymied (with several others) the South Norwalk elementary school several years ago, and so he has stuck his nose into the Board of Education’s business before.

The NHS project is only one of the reasons that voters need to end the reigns of the mayor and the stranglehold of the Norwalk Democratic Party on city government. Norwalkers need open and honest debate within government.

As has been said before, the NHS project will cost far more than was stated for a long time, and so the city is now asking the state to increase its contribution. Remember that state money is our tax money, too, and so we shouldn’t want to spend state money unwisely, either.

If I were from one of the communities that were over-promised school construction funding by the state employee who is now under federal investigation, and I learned that the state had decided to give Norwalk even more money for this unnecessary project, I would demand that the state honor the amount already promised my community, especially since these communities have made commitments based upon what they had every reason to believe was state-committed funding. In fact, these communities have better claim for increased dollars than Norwalk does.

Shame on you, Mayor Rilling, and shame on you, Bob Duff. Shame on everyone if the Democrats are given this kind of control in the next election.

Norwalk resident March 21, 2022 at 10:56 am

Bruh moment…

You mean to tell me they did all these additions just to tear it all down? Cmon man this is a terrible idea.

Patrick Cooper March 21, 2022 at 8:40 pm

@Seriously, I for one appreciate your concerns, and your criticisms of the project – and specifically – the politicians who have advanced this.

Here is the problem. You post under a nome-de-plume. Likely for good reason. It’s sad.

Here is the upshot: until moderate D’s such as yourself – stand up, speak out – and take personal responsibility for having an independent mind – the local party will be run by an emperor.

The entire city is waiting. Don’t expect any help from the opposition – you have to do this yourselves.

Paul March 22, 2022 at 8:32 am

Like David, I am one of the parents and I support the plan. Will it be messy? expensive? a hassle? all yes. Having this level of construction will most certainly be an inconvenience, however a high quality high school can only improve a community. No community has ever gone bankrupt from building a new school, that line of reasoning is simply not true. Some thoughts: 1) For those advocating for renovating the current structure, the reality is that the cost of renovation and new construction can be quite similar. In this case, the amount of renovation needed would be as extensive as a complete teardown/rebuild. 2) There’s no doubt that the bldg is aged and old buildings can be unhealthy and often have maintenance issues. There are parts of the bldg that can’t receive consistent wifi, mold behind walls, etc. 3) technology has changed so much and an old building simply cannot sustain new technology. It’s a given that students learning in old buildings are at a disadvantage. This project will ultimately benefit Norwalk and it has the potential to modernize an aging building, thereby providing a more up to date and a quality educational program.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>