Norwalk BoE reviews new ideas for Jefferson renovation

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis, center, begins a discussion about plans to renovate Jefferson Elementary School, Monday in City Hall.

Updated, 8:11 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – A conceptual design for Jefferson Elementary School renovations shows features that weren’t in the project’s original proposal to City officials, including a gymnasium and a bus loop in the back.  The bus loop is a driveway surrounding a playground.

The original proposal cost $23.9 million and the total cost is now estimated as $27.8 million, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said.  “If we are going to build a gymnasium, which was not part of the original estimate that was approved, and the other things that are talked about here, {we are} likely going to need some more money,” Hamilton said Monday.

“In order to move forward with what we want to do with the dining environment, you really can’t have a gymnasium plus an auditorium plus a cafeteria in one room. It just doesn’t work,” he said, explaining the need for a gymnasium on the school’s upper level.

Board of Education members are poised to request $9 million in capital budget funds this year to support the plan.  The request will replace $5 million that was originally approved for Jefferson, and then redirected to Norwalk High School after the Jefferson project was delayed.  The additional $4 million will help cover the proposed additional expense.

Construction at the overcrowded Jefferson school is two years off, because Ponus Middle School must first be expanded so that it can house pupils from Jefferson while that school is renovated.  A groundbreaking on the Ponus expansion is expected within weeks, and will complete in 2021.

The City in November contracted with Antinozzi Associates to develop a conceptual design study, documents show.

“This is not the final plan. … It’s really trying to figure out what we can do there and what the rough cost would be,” Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis said at Monday’s BoE Facilities Committee meeting.

Barbis, Facilities Committee Chairman, also opined on the obvious challenges the Jefferson site presents, located on a steep hill in close proximity to Van Buren Avenue and a busy intersection.

“There are a number of people, myself included, that think Jefferson is a horrendous site, a really kind of a dumb place to put a school,” Barbis said. “… It is our newest school, which is a scary thought.”

There have been many discussions with the City seeking other options, but “there really aren’t any in that neighborhood,” Barbis said.  He noted that the nearby vacant Toys “R” Us building is valued at $9 million but the site is only 2.5 acres.

“You really can’t build a school on that little, plus it’s right on two highways and there’s a cliff. So it’s probably not the smartest place to build a school,” he said.  He added that Jefferson is Norwalk’s “most walked to-school” and children crossing Post Road “would be crazy.”

Barbis said he had heard that the nearby Lowe’s might close but that’s valued at $45 million, so it’s not viable either.

Consultants Milone and McBroom in 2015-16 studied St. Philip Roman Catholic Church as a potential site for a new school but the idea was rejected. Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said Monday that the site was considered again, but moving forward would have left no neighborhood school for the Jefferson area.

“The superintendent really does not think it makes sense and so I think we have to respect his point of view,” Barbis said. “…The concepts have been vetted for alternatives. There really are no viable alternatives and so let’s look at this plan. I think it’s a big improvement on what’s there and some of the big issues we have had with that site do get corrected with this plan.”

Michael LoSasso of Antinozzi Associates agreed that it’s a challenging site but “the scheme actually has some real benefits.”

To renovate as new, and qualify for state reimbursement, the renovated building must meet current codes with a serviceable life of 25 years, he said.  Meeting current codes will require safety improvements.

The current situation with a loading space under part of the building is a “big no-no,” and the plan is to build out classroom space under the overhang facing Van Buren, he said.  The main entrance would be fortified and a second entrance would be added on the upper level, creating lobby space between the proposed gymnasium and existing cafeteria.  This second entrance would be used by students arriving and departing by bus and be supervised by an adjacent Assistant Principal’s office suite.

Parent drop off would be in a separate area off Bedford Avenue, and children would enter the school under a new canopy, according to design plans.

A new “servery” would be installed in the cafeteria/auditorium, to include a salad bar and smoothie stations.

A new gymnasium would allow for more after-hours activities but would also decrease the state reimbursement rate  because the square footage exceeds the eligibility, Jim Giuliano of Construction Solutions Group, said.  CSG is the City’s project manager for new school construction.

“We do have a real need for these facilities that people use after hours… even if it comes at a cost it is something we should put in,” Barbis said.


Jefferson concept 1-7-19


A rendering of the Jefferson Elementary concept, prepared by Antinozzi Associates.
A rendering of the Jefferson Elementary gymnasium concept, prepared by Antinozzi Associates.
A rendering of the Jefferson Elementary concept, prepared by Antinozzi Associates.
A rendering of the Jefferson Elementary concept, prepared by Antinozzi Associates.
A rendering of the Jefferson Elementary concept, prepared by Antinozzi Associates.


6 responses to “Norwalk BoE reviews new ideas for Jefferson renovation”

  1. Dawn

    They need to blight Lowe’s then offer 10 cents on the dollar. Oh no I forgot. They only do that to tax paying homeowners.

  2. carol

    enough already.

  3. Bob P

    This is a very densely populated area and the school has long been passed over for repairs and improvements. I’m glad to see this proceeding.

    I would much rather see my tax dollars go towards improving schools that investing in “innovation districts” and things that only really benefit stockholders and developers.

  4. r schier

    Is this a school, or a new hotel ? “Salad bars” and “smoothie stations” ? They really do think the taxpayers are an endless resource for their aspirations…..

  5. Jonny Dubowsky

    Salad bars and smoothie stations! How outrageous! Schools have salad and fruit in their food budget already, but how dare they present them in a modern way that motivates kids to eat healthy! They should be drinking coke and eating French fries….

  6. Townie

    Concerning this newly proposed plan……..it is identical to the one developed and presented to the BOE over 10 years ago by the NPS Facility Director. It was an excellent plan at that time and remains as one today. Good to see movement finally taking place on this long overdue project. Jefferson students, staff and parents have suffered far too long.

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