NORWALK, Conn. — The 80 percent reimbursement to build a new Norwalk High School comes with a caveat: the total cost authorized is $189 million, not the $225 million the Board of Education had used in its original computations.
So, in immediately taking “a good hard look at the square foot area, the estimates,” a decision was made to keep the shell of the science wing, built in 2008, Jim Giuliano, the city’s project manager for new school construction said last week. The building’s exterior is being reconsidered, and may be block and brick, “a little bit more architecturally pleasing than what you have now.”
A pool would cost $8 million and “there’s no question that we’re struggling with the funding,” Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said to the Council Land Use Committee. “… The pool does create, within the existing budget, financial difficulties to figure out how we can include it in the project.”
“We are in a very preliminary stage in the design,” Lo said. Architects aren’t involved yet, but the application needs to be submitted to the state by Dec. 31.
“This reduction from 225 to 189 has really put our city and the school district in a really very difficult place, and I’m really disappointed by it,” Common Council President Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said. While it was “tossed around” that a high school could easily be built for $189 million, “the reality is that we are building three high schools in one.”
Norwalk qualified for 80 percent reimbursement, in a deal shepherded by State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), by increasing the regional component of its existing P-Tech (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program and by planning an arts academy, to include 100 students from surrounding communities. The “third” school within a school is the actual high school.
“When you’re building three schools at once, you know, obviously, you need more money to do that,” Smyth said. “And, and so I really, I’m just so disappointed in that in the state, and then the reduction of the funding.”
“Our community needs that pool,” she said. “…In my opinion, we can’t afford to lose it. So, you know, I just I don’t know, can we, you know, continue meeting with the state to, to push for more funding?”
That question wasn’t answered. Land Use and Building Management Committee Chairman Thomas Livingston (D-District E) stressed that it’s very early in the process.
Norwalk approved $45 million as its share of construction costs but 20 percent of the total cost now works out to $38 million, Council Finance Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) observed. He asked if the City could spend the $7 million difference on the high school.
“They’ll probably push that you make the design work at 189,” Giuliano said. But it’s up to the City, with the knowledge that going over the $189 million means all of that cost would be born by local taxpayer funds.
The Council is in the first steps of making the Dec. 31 deadline, set to approve the grant application at Tuesday’s meeting. It will also vote on making the Land Use Committee the building committee for the new high school.
“Approving this tonight does not obligate us to actually build a school for 189 if we don’t think that works,” Livingston said Thursday, as the Committee advanced those technical considerations.
Smyth asked if bathrooms would be installed in the science wing. It’s too early for that detail, Giuliano said.
“We’re going to put in new science cabinets, new flooring, new ceilings, new lighting, new plumbing fixtures,” he said. “So we reduced our costs significantly there by not having to one, demo it and not having to build a new shell. We have the infrastructure there in place.”
They considered keeping the existing gymnasium, but it doesn’t work logistically, Giuliano said.
“I’m going to try to place the locker room for the gym and adjacent to the swimming pool so that we got one locker room to service both uses,” Lo said.
Giuliano called it “a budget-based design” but also said Norwalk Public Schools might have to reduce its programming options to use less square footage.
“I think we do have enough money to build the school,” Giuliano said. “We’re just going to have to be prudent in how we move forward and challenge the designers to come up with creative ways to, you know, achieve the goals that we want to achieve.”