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City to consider athletic fields as location for new Norwalk High School

Working being done on a Norwalk High School athletic field in 2018. (File photo)

Updated, 3 p.m.: Information added, headline adjusted.

NORWALK, Conn. — The City has settled upon an architect to design a new Norwalk High School. And it’s possible the school will be built on the athletic fields.

Kaestle Boos Associates Inc. is the winning bidder for the work, a potential $6 million contract to be voted on by the full Council next Tuesday. As part of the process, one of the competing firms said much money could be saved if the school were built on the football fields, Jim Giuliano, the city’s project manager for new school construction, and Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said Wednesday, seeking the ability to investigate the option.

Both stressed that this is preliminary and expressed skepticism that the idea will withstand scrutiny.

“We don’t want to leave any stone unturned. We started on this project by saying, ‘well, we don’t want to touch (the football fields),’ but at the same time is that option,” Lo said.

A summary.

The Norwalk High School project 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.

When the move to build a new school was announced, Konstantinos (Kosta) Diamantis, Director of the Connecticut Office of School Construction Grants & Review, said it would be built on the site of the existing school, in phases. Mayor Harry Rilling agreed.

Potential architects were asked to provide a fee for the design, then a cost to design a new pool as an optional add-on, Giuliano said Wednesday. Kaestle Boos came in well below its competitors.

  • Kaestle Boos Associates, Inc., $5.7 million architectural fee, $250,000 for a pool
  • TSKP STUDIO, LLC/Tecton, $7.4 million architectural fee, $470,000 for a pool
  • The S/L/A/M Collaborative, Inc., $7.6 million, $400,000 for a pool

 

Kaestle Boos has recently worked on Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School and Attleboro High School in Massachusetts, Naugatuck High School and Moser School here in Connecticut and Barrington Middle School in Rhode Island, the firm states, adding that the new schools “were constructed on the site of the existing facility while the schools were occupied and active.”

The City never sought an estimate based on using the athletic fields as the site for the new school but when the potential savings were presented, “we said let’s add an alternate for building on the athletic field, just to see how it shakes out,” Giuliano said to the Council Land Use and Building Management Committee.

That idea would put the athletic fields out of commission for three years, he said.

On the other hand, it’s important “for us is maintain our sanity,” Lo said. “Phased demolition of that existing building is going to be painful to do because … it’s a cast-in-place building. And you have to cut the building up and you got to deal with existing utility, heating systems and everything else. You got to build a new and then you actually push the building right along the street’s frontage.”

He said, “Also, by building a separate building, we don’t interfere with the student’s education for three years, versus they’re moving around every year, from here to there.”

Giuliano said he suspects the firm didn’t consider the plan to use the school’s science wing, saving 16,700 square feet of construction.

Council member Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) was on the selection committee. All along, everyone has talked about the science wing, which was built in the mid-2000s, and adding onto the building, assuming the school wouldn’t be built along County Street, she said. “But one of the firms just came to us with this idea of building a whole new school back on those athletic fields, and it just piqued everyone’s interest.”

6 comments

Mike Barbis April 8, 2021 at 6:18 am

The City needs to have a frank discussion. We are rebuilding Jefferson School, we have committed to building a new Cranbury School and we have to build a school in South Norwalk. Our resources are limited. Can we really afford this new NHS trophy project?

Bryan Meek April 8, 2021 at 7:01 am

Awesome. Add on to Ely School and others and soon we’ll be over $10 million down the drain on shelved plans. The neighbors will never allow a towering monolith to occupy the football field which sits upon pure ledge that would cost the city a fortune to excavate. The money saving solution is a simple one. Turn City Hall back into a school now that we’ve proven it is not an essential service. What would really amaze me beyond all these land grabs is if someone, somewhere in our government could figure out how to fill potholes again, or are we too far away from Election Day to maintain the city properly?

Nora King April 8, 2021 at 8:44 am

The lies that Duff and Rilling told behind closed doors. Now it is okay for them to shut down the athletic fields. Money that taxpayers recently invested in many of those fields.

Adolph Neaderland April 8, 2021 at 11:45 am

Although the current State Building Code unfortunately does not recognize any virus mitigating requirements, new school buildings will likely be in service for some 15 to 20 years, coping with, per Dr. Fauce, future new virus attacks.

As such, our building approval Commissioners should apply under State Code Paragraph 104.10 for approval requiring virus mitigating features be included in school building designs to protect future generations of Norwalk residents.

Need for More Data April 8, 2021 at 10:44 pm

It’s time for Norwalk to cancel this project and cut its losses. This construction project has just become more ridiculous than ever before.

Questions:
1. Where will football (all levels), field hockey, lacrosse, tennis and soccer be played for the 3 years? Andrews Field was abandoned because it was unsuitable, especially because of water. The fields at Nathan Hale aren’t suitable and there isn’t adequate parking there anyway.
2. What about the $$$$$$$$ invested in the fields?
3. Will all physical education be held indoors for three years?
4. After three years of construction, then the replacement fields will have to be built.
5. Once the project is completed, will the fields be located where the current school and softball field are now? Will it take another year to build them? Does anyone else foresee plummeting property values on Strawberry Hill and County Street?

The cost overruns and other non-reimbursables ought to be painful for taxpayers.

Can someone remind me about how this project was “sold” in the first place?

John Miller April 11, 2021 at 2:33 pm

Mr. Lo’s comment that it’s important for us to maintain our sanity is spot on. The best way to maintain our sanity is to cancel this project. We simply do not need a political shrine (let’s call it the Duff Mahal) on the corner of County Street and Strawberry Hill Avenue nor can we afford it.

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