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Norwalk BoE set to choose option for NHS; Rilling ‘confident’ a pool will get built

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

NORWALK, Conn. – Board of Education members appear poised to choose which of two options they prefer for a new Norwalk High School/P-TECH Academy. With many Norwalkers asking questions about the uncertainty of a pool in the facility, Mayor Harry Rilling said he’s confident one will be built, it’s just a matter of when.

The BoE Facilities Committee is meeting Monday to vote on the options, after listening to public input last week. King Street residents spoke in passionate opposition to the option featuring a new high school where the football field is now, given this would create school bus traffic on their street, where they say the traffic is already dangerous. Parents said option A, the other plan, would deprive their children of a high school experience as the construction disrupts the campus for years, possibly exposing them to hazardous materials in the air.

“I just think it’s a really bad idea. Both of the options are terrible. I don’t like that they were developed without any input from the community in the first place and I think it would be wise to reconsider entirely in going back to the drawing board,” Adriana Nassi said.

The surprise plan for a high school – it wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen before mid-2019 – was approved by the State for 80% reimbursement, but at a lower cost than City officials expected initially. That’s $189 million rather than the $225 million the original concepts were based on.

Kaestle Boos Associates Inc. has developed two plans; Option A is estimated at $193 million and Option B would be $191 million.

Option A would construct the new buildings in the same general area the schools are now, while Option B would put the new complex entirely along King Street.

 

What about the NHS pool?

A pool is included in each of the layouts but its construction isn’t in the budget. Given the reduction from the expected $225 million to $189 million, in 2020 it was made an “add alternate.”

The City funded its design. Project manager Jim Giuliano called the design a “contingency,” and said, “If it looks like we are going to be able to afford the pool, we’re going to move forward with building the pool.”

Rilling began Thursday’s NPS community feedback session by saying, “I know there’s a lot of concern about the possibility of a swimming pool. I just want to let people know that I have reached out to a potential foundation that might be willing to do some fundraising in the event that the pool cannot be done with the funds available.”

Afterwards, he explained to NancyOnNorwalk, “Basically I reached out to a person who has a foundation that might be interested in doing a capital fundraising for the pool at Norwalk High School. Many places take the sponsorships and name their facility after the major investor. I have someone who is very interested.”

A Common Council member had suggested a Fairfield County resident who might be help fund the pool, and, within the last two weeks, he spoke to that person, who “expressed interest” and promised to look into it, he said in a follow-up phone call.

If naming rights were involved, it would need to be appropriate for public property, he said.

“You’d have to be a little bit restrictive. There have to be some requirements,” Rilling said.

A pool wouldn’t be built right away, it could be five years, but “the intention is to eventually build a pool,” Rilling said.

It’s estimated that a pool would cost $12 million, according to Rilling. In 2020, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said a new pool would cost $8 million.

The State will not reimburse the City on the cost of a pool, Rilling said.

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

 

Why a new school?

In 2019, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) unveiled the “big idea” to attract 80% State reimbursement by building a new school that 200 non-Norwalk students could attend.

Rilling said Norwalk would spend about $40 million for a new school rather than $11 million to renovating its current 48-year-old building, taking advantage of low bonding rates and spreading the interest out over 30 years instead of 15.

The school had been under renovation, Duff and the Norwalk High School Governance Council were frustrated that the cost of repairs and renovations kept escalating, then-Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said. First, it was $7 million, and then it became $11 million. Which then became insufficient.

While some ask why the renovation of current buildings can’t continue, NPS needs a new Norwalk High School facility, Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Sandra Faioes said during Thursday’s feedback session.

Faioes said, “the current concrete structure poses serious challenges to when we’re doing upgrades.” An Information Technology (IT) project took “only two weeks at Brian McMahon to do” but similar work took two months at Norwalk High School and P-TECH.

 

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

Community feedback

Two recent public meetings have detailed the challenges in building a new school on the current site, while education continues for students.

Under Option A, construction of a four-story Norwalk High School building would begin in mid-2023 and last 18 months, said Amar Shamas of Gilbane Construction Company, construction manager for the project. Then 16 months of work would begin to convert the existing science wing into a new three-story P-TECH building; simultaneously, the B, C, D and E wings would be demolished, which will take four to six months.

“It is a concrete structure, we have to go through an abatement process because it does contain asbestos-containing materials,” he said. As school will be in session, “we will have barricades and separations between the existing occupied areas and the construction areas” and noise will be an issue, as well as it being “somewhat disruptive to the air.”

The school will have a temporary cafeteria for three years somewhere in the existing building and the culinary arts program will be affected, Shamas explained. “The existing media center is going to have to be reduced probably in half size.”

As the P-TECH building nears completion, construction on the auditorium, the gym and the music wing will begin, an 18-month process, he said. Complications include interfacing the existing mechanical and electrical systems.

In phase four, the remaining buildings would be demolished and then the cafeteria, media center and maybe a pool would be built, Shamas said.

Over all, this would take 55 months.

Option B would take 51 months and be much simpler. “It’s effectively two phases, constructing the new building in one phase, which is about a three-year duration. And then once that’s completed, the school will swing into the new building,” and demolition of the old buildings would begin, Shamas said.

None of the citizens who spoke were happy.

Nassi, a King Street resident, said the road is small and doesn’t have the traffic control measures it needs.

“You’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, you’re telling me there’s nowhere in Norwalk that we could relocate the school entirely?” she said.

Zehra Kuz, another neighbor, said she’s an architect and an educator and criticized the design.

“The buildings look like a shopping mall rather than a school building. As a matter of fact, the existing school has very sensitive layout. Yes, I understand it is concrete, but it has virtues that can be enhanced,” she said.

The planned King Street driveway is an “utterly horrific idea,” Tyler Fairbairn said.

As is now, cars line up on King Street to go to Naramake Elementary School and other drivers can’t see, making it risky for his children to cross the street, he said.

“My kid almost got hit again,” he said.

“I’ve seen that happen not only to Tyler’s children, but to other people walking on the street multiple times,” another man said.

But a representative of condominium owners said they’re concerned about traffic and other quality of life issues if Option A gets built, because they’re right across County Street.

Gloria Neiderer said her child will be a P-TECH freshman this fall and, “I do not want him to be near the hazardous materials when wings, B, C, D and E are going to be demolished.”

She said, “You’re asking these kids to sacrifice their high school years after and during a pandemic for the last two. So I don’t understand how Option A can even be considered.”

The meeting ended with Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella thanking participants and promising another community forum on the topic.

Monday’s BoE Facilities Committee meeting agenda includes, “Final Discussion and Approval of the Proposed Recommended Option for the Construction of the New Norwalk High School.”

The full Board is meeting Tuesday but a vote on the high school isn’t mentioned on the agenda.

An email seeking clarification from Board of Education Chairman Colin Hosten, NPS Chief of Staff and Communications Brenda Wilcox Williams and Estrella went unanswered.

12 comments

DryAsABone February 28, 2022 at 7:47 am

$12M budgeted for a pool? Seems cheap.
I do not see a spa in the plans…why not?
Nothing spends like public money.

Norwalker February 28, 2022 at 8:43 am

And still no field house. A missed opportunity for the third time to have at least one athletic field house in Norwalk with two large high schools. Hundreds more students and adults would make use of an athletic field house than a pool.

DrewT February 28, 2022 at 8:45 am

Bob Duff Hugh is DOA! This is an extremely expensive who filled nightmare of Bobs and Bobs only! This entire project is a mess! There are many many many questions that answers are not being provided. And 1 fact being mis-reported is that the State will reimburse Norwalk UP TO 80%! It’s not guaranteed! They can lower that figure based on the final project if items they don’t feel were necessary. This is now being rammed through so it can get a vote in the House and signed by Lamont to begin next year. If it’s not they have to wait a another year. This project is already over budget. And speaking of budgets where is the cost being figured from. Are they numbers from 2 years ago?! Are they todays numbers with inflation out of control and on the rise?! Where are we going to get all this material we need from?! We have contractors that can’t even bid on jobs because they can’t get materials and actually employees. This 5-7 years project that’s funny! More like 7-10 at the way things are going in this country. This idea is horrible and must sue now! This school needs repairs and no one is denying that but not this way and not to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars more then it’s advertised and just to satisfy a sitting senators ego. BTW Where has he been?! Besides yelling at Darien and crying about them and a weather report where has he been?! Maybe he has a little investigation coming as well from the FBI?! Regardless we must kill this project and go back to the drawing board with community input and realistic numbers including a pool. Which BTW will only add $50 Million! Say NO to Bob Duff High!

Piberman February 28, 2022 at 11:30 am

Norwalk’s elected officials again demonstrating their “education priorities” and lack of concern that most of our public school grads fail to meet CT Edu Dept standards. Our elected officials are concerned about “pools” and fancy “new buildings”. But lack any plans to properly educate our children. Providing further evidence why Norwalk surrounded by well managed towns with superb school systems has its reputation as a transient renters City. We desperately need a BOE and Common Council focused on educating our children. Not focused on giving out high salaries, building pools and new schools. How embarrassing to pay CT’s highest Supt salary (over $300k) for overseeing a failing public school system. Where is our City’s pride ?

Dennis A. Horvath February 28, 2022 at 1:50 pm

Our streets have ruts, potholes, and cracks that no amount of crack sealing and cold patch will help. They also have badly raised and sunken manhole covers, and drain gratings. Even emergency vehicles and school buses need to travel more slowly now. How many accidents have been caused by this mess? Have the mayor and common council decided to leave our third world streets like they are and use the defects for “traffic calming” purposes? Norwalk taxpayers have given their all for our schools. Now it’s time to get other badly needed work done. The paving budget needs to be greatly expanded and the actual paving program must be more aggressive.
Norwalk taxpayers…the gift that keeps on giving!

Admiral February 28, 2022 at 2:19 pm

Does Duff still send out a generic “Happy Birthday” to everyone on Facebook each day, as I’ve heard? What does he DO exactly?

50 Months! NO ONE WANTS THIS PROJECT! February 28, 2022 at 3:33 pm

BOE votes for the lesser of two evils? BOE, listen up! This is your opportunity to send Bob Duff packing. This project in no way will enhance the educational outcomes for the poor and disadvantaged kids of Norwalk. What a slap in the face to our kids. Like telling them to ‘shut up, sit down. Here is a shiny distracting object.’ Meanwhile test scores and educational outcomes continue to plummet.

A shiny new building will not improve test scores. It definitely won’t teach the inner city kids to swim! (Stew Leonard must be incensed about that – with his learn to swim program)

50 months or nearly 5 years after breaking ground and Norwalk’s leadership continues to ignore South Norwalk and building a community school.

Lastly, does any sober person realistically believe that Hartford will reimburse. Neighboring towns are still waiting on their checks.

Ben G March 1, 2022 at 2:45 pm

The “Pool” that mayor Rilling is so confident about will be a giant hole in the ground with a neon sign next to it that reads “Norwalk Taxpayers, Throw Money Here!”

I like Harry as a person, but man is he clueless. When will taxpayers stand up and demand some accountability from the mayor, common council, and the BOE. There is plenty that needs to get fixed in Norwalk. Essentially every school. Focus on that instead of building a new high school that will surely be built of lesser quality than every other building that was built decades ago.

Seriously? March 1, 2022 at 4:09 pm

We often hear and even discuss the terrible emotional struggles of students because of two years of the impact of Covid on their lives and on their learning. Hold that thought for a minute and then ask yourself what additional damage the proposed Norwalk High School demolition and construction will cause the students and student-athletes at that school for more than four additional years. That’s twice the duration of Covid.

Students entering NHS during the first year of construction will experience disruptions from construction for their entire high school careers, and it will continue even after their graduation. Students entering the following year will experience construction for most of their high school years.

I know McMahon staff who worked at that school during its major, although much smaller, construction and renovation project. They say that conditions were extremely bad, but at least that project was of much shorter duration because it wasn’t as extensive. Also, it didn’t affect the athletic fields.

Finally, with all of the uncertainties in the world, including record inflation; terrible supply chain problems; labor shortages; military action in Ukraine, whose end none of can predict with any confidence; the costs and timeline for this project are unpredictable. It may take even longer and cost far more. What happens if the American economy takes a substantial hit because of Ukraine, and taxpayers lose their jobs? What if inflation continues to rise, further affecting Norwalk families? What if construction materials and components aren’t available and timelines must be extended? What if there are monumental cost overruns and plans have to be changed to cut costs? Even then, taxpayers will be on the hook for more than people are predicting now.

Is this NHS project the result of a community outcry for new facilities? No, it was a secret plan hatched by Bob Duff, who didn’t even consult the board of education before announcing his plan during a news conference. There are far older and needier buildings in the NPS, but Mr. Duff made the decision that a new NHS should supersede the needs of all of them. The reason Ms. Faioes offered for a new NHS is just silly. That’s the reason for spending almost $200 million for a new building? What about elementary and middle schools that have far worse problems?

Piberman March 1, 2022 at 5:05 pm

Building a new school really shows our City residents how our One Party City governs our City. Our “leaders” are focused on building a new school. Not because we desperately need one but because it generates “visibility”. And gets attention. When the school is finished everyone will congratulate our “leadership team”. A noble achievement for our “leadership team”. They know how to get “results”.

Of course the “leadership team” shows no interest on student achievement. That’s the role of the BOE. And as long as parents and our school teachers don’t complain failing to meet CT Edu graduation standards won’t draw any attention. After all who ever looks up a CT Edu Dept website ? And when has a BOE member expressed public concern about our failing public school system. It’s one of those things we just don’t talk about. Not in Norwalk.

Of course if our City leaders were really interested in our public schools they’d have to seek out candidates with the skills and background commonly required in our surrounding towns with their splendid public schools. But getting well qualified residents on to our BOE isn’t so easy. The BOE would still be ruled by the politicos lacking major management/business experience.

So our public school system is safe from radical change. No one really minds lack of achievement or that relatively few grads secure acceptance at a first rate college. Or get merit based scholarships. We run our schools to Norwalk standards. In our transient now mostly renters City those standards are good enough.

In a few years who will ever remember when once upon a time we had good schools in Norwalk where quite a few grads secured first rate college acceptances and scholarships. And most teachers actually lived here sending their kids to our schools because the were good enough. Those days gone forever in Norwalk.

Lady Driver March 2, 2022 at 9:33 am

This project follows this pattern: “Sunk Cost Fallacy.”

What is the Sunk Cost Fallacy?
The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.

A famous example of the sunk cost fallacy impacting large-scale decisions was coined the Concorde fallacy. In 1956, the Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee met to discuss building a supersonic airplane, the Concorde.2 French and British engine manufacturers and French and British governments were involved in the project that was estimated to cost almost 100 million dollars.3 Long before the project was over, it was clear that there were increasing costs and that the financial gains of the plane, once in use, would not offset them.4 However, the project continued. The manufacturers and governments followed through on the project because they had already made significant financial investments and dedicated a lot of time to the project.4 Ultimately, this led to millions of dollars being wasted, and Concorde operated for less than 30 years.

Read more here: https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/the-sunk-cost-fallacy/#:~:text=The%20Sunk%20Cost%20Fallacy%20describes,current%20costs%20outweigh%20the%20benefits.

Piberman March 2, 2022 at 2:19 pm

As apples fall from trees this being Norwalk after a new high school is completed most of our graduating students will still fail to meet CT Edu Dept standards if past is prologue. Remains puzzling why the leadership in our One Party Democratic City considers building a new school more important than demanding much better administration of our $200 million school budget so that our children receive proper educations. Is it because they’re more concerned with “appearances” than building foundations for successful lives ? Or just not interested ?

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