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Norwalk task force hopes to finally enact school recycling

Norwalk Mayor’s Energy and Environment Task Force

Councilman John Kydes (D-District C), chairman of the Mayor’s Energy and Environment Task Force, listens to task force member Daphne Dixon at a recent meeting.

Updated, 3:22 p.m., comment from John Kydes

NORWALK, Conn. – High hopes have been expressed by the Mayor’s Energy and Environment Task Force regarding what has been a Mission Impossible for years.

“I am confident that we will have a (school) recycling program in place city-wide by the end of 2015,” Common Councilman John Kydes (D-District C), task force chairman, said in a recent email to PTO members.

Kydes’ task force has quietly been at work, tackling projects that include keeping track of progress (or lack thereof) in the Manresa Island power plant disposition, getting solar panels on the City Hall roof, studying Norwalk facilities for energy efficiency and applying for grants that were unavailable prior to the formulation of a task force, Kydes said.

Kydes said at a recent task force meeting that the school recycling goal is near and dear to his heart, as he has two children in the schools and his wife is in the PTOs. But, “I have come to find this has many pieces of the puzzle in it,” he said. “… For the most part, there is no recycling being done at any of the schools. But everyone right now, they’re like, ‘It’s 2014, we gotta do it’ and they’re all looking at us to do it.”

There’s an obvious financial incentive for the Board of Education, he said. “I have spoken to (Superintendent) Dr. Rivera and he is eagerly awaiting for us to bring him a plan on what we believe will best work,” he said.

But, he said, working out the details is “not as easy as it sounds.”

This is a sentiment that task force member Diane Lauricella echoed several times.

The League of Women Voters has pushed for school recycling for 10 years, she said. She spoke to then-BoE Policy Committee Chairman Steve Colarossi about it last year, she said.

“There were attempts in front of the Public Works Committee to have the subsequent chairs meet with Steve Colarossi,” Lauricella said. “I have spoken with Steve Colarossi a lot, because it’s been frustrating over many years; however we have new administration” — a phrase the Democratic Town Committee member repeated several times — “we have this task force and we also have some people on the Board of Ed, who I know I have spoken to, including Heidi Keyes, who is the new policy chair. Part of it is literally the problem is that the policy that has been written is hindering this from being done in a proactive way.”

She got then-Board of Estimate and Taxation Chairman Fred Wilms to agree to a presentation at one point, she said.

“At the time, (DPW Chief) Hal Alvord dodged it and said he needed two years to assess the situation which, at the time, I felt, being in the waste management business, was ridiculous. So for the last two or three years — it depends on who is in the leadership and their will. So I am so happy you are interested in this, John. I am interested in it. And then you have a list of people. There’s many more.”

“If it’s going to happen, this task force is going to pull it off this time,” Kydes said. “Knowing all the pieces of this puzzle, I can see why people get discouraged and past attempts have failed.”

Alvord said Monday that a meeting on the topic is planned for next week. But he scoffed at the idea that Rivera is hoping the task force will come up with a plan.

“I’ve been around that horn a couple of times. But we’re going to meet with whoever (Kydes) wants to meet. I know (BoE Facilities Manager) Bill Hodel told me today he’s going to be there. But honestly, if the superintendent is not there, and the superintendent is not prepared to tell principals to do it, it’s not going to happen,” Alvord said.

He agreed there’s a financial incentive.

“I think there is a lot of potential there,” Alvord said. “Last year I wanted to find out what is actually going on at the schools, recycling-wise. We do, I want to say, about 6,000 tons a year in recycling in Norwalk. We had less than a ton come in from the schools over the period of a week.”

Kydes and Lauricella tossed around $100,000 as a possible return on school recycling over the course of a year.

“Initiating city-wide school recycling requires a collaboration between the City and the Board of Education. We have had overwhelming support from both sides and I am confident that we will have a recycling program in place city-wide by the end of 2015,” Kydes wrote to the PTOs. “A two-month pilot program is planned to begin with the next school year, followed by one school being added each month thereafter.”

On Tuesday afternoon Kydes emailed an additional statement: “A city-wide school recycling program must be a collaboration between the City and BOE in order to function. No one party should be held solely responsible for the failure of past attempts. The Task Force’s role is to act as a mediator and help get the job done.”

Other initiatives:

• A solar pilot program is planned for the summer of 2015 that will include City Hall and up to two additional locations. “Everyone seems on board with this so I feel confident that come next summer we will have solar panels on City Hall,” Kydes said.

The hope is to package Norwalk High and City Hall together and get a better deal, he said.

• Norwalk Community College (NCC) Director of the Building Efficiency & Sustainable Technology program Eric Gribin is leading an effort to benchmark all city and school facilities. “After we have completed this benchmarking process, the Task Force will have pin-pointed which facilities are the least energy efficient and be able offer our recommendations for improvement,” Kydes wrote.

Gribin said at the task force meeting that NCC had received a grant for benchmarking, and had been working on Waterbury and other cities. The Norwalk BoE buildings have never been benchmarked, he said, indicating that progress was being made.

• “The Task Force is applying for state and federal grants that prior to the formation of the Task Force, were not accessible to Norwalk,” Kydes wrote. “These grants can be applied towards energy saving projects, such as heating and cooling system upgrades, lighting, window replacement and programs that will educate residents on energy savings.”

• “The Task Force is working in collaboration with the Manresa Association and (state) Sen. Bob Duff to formulate a plan on how to best approach the remediation and future use of the Manresa Island Power Plant,” Kydes wrote.

Kydes said at the task force meeting that it’s cheaper for the power plant’s owners to “sit on it” now that it’s been shut down, as “lots of ideas float around.”

“They’re trying to find a way to find the money to remediate the property,” he said. “Not much progress, but this is going to be a hot topic in Norwalk for the next few years.”

18 comments

EveT June 3, 2014 at 7:12 am

Exactly why is recycling in the schools not as easy as it sounds? What, or who, is standing in the way?

NorwalkVoter June 3, 2014 at 7:32 am

Should be a no-brainier. It also should be included in the curriculum. We will never clean up the city and eliminate litter if we don’t teach this when kids are young. BOE get on board.

Casey Smith June 3, 2014 at 8:12 am

Norwalk is not the only town that struggles with this. If the custodians don’t buy into the program, then the materials in the recycling bins get dumped into the garbage dumpsters.

Suzanne June 3, 2014 at 8:49 am

This is one of the “useless” task forces appointed by the Mayor that will never accomplish anything (or only do so at taxpayers’ expense.) I think those naysayers need to read this article.

Steve Colarossi June 3, 2014 at 10:03 am

In August of 2012, the Board of Education unanimously approved the initial recycling policy (which I had drafted) that obligated school principals to direct staff efforts as soon as appropriate receptacles were provided them. The policy was written over the course of several meetings with the members of the Policy Committee, representatives of the Common Council and City agencies and school administration.
It was an important first step- however, given the inconsistent delivery of recycling bins at the schools, the Board of Education at that time could not require schools to perform a task for which they did not have the appropriate equipment.
In fact, to streamline how recycling would be implemented once proper bins were provided the schools, the Superintendent was expressly authorized to develop the specific rules and guidelines to “implement, encourage and monitor” recycling efforts. In that way, the BoE would not need to revise the policy and a full-scale recycling effort could be undertaken upon the direction of the Superintendent without any delay. Rather than hinder progress, the policy facilitated progress.

EveT June 3, 2014 at 11:10 am

So the stumbling block was the “inconsistent delivery of recycling bins”? How complicated is that? This is the kind of ineptitude that makes taxpayers believe their dollars are being wasted.

Mike Lyons June 3, 2014 at 12:03 pm

We are voting tonight at the BoE on a contract with Hillyard Rovic to provide us with custodial supplies, training, and improvements in building management, in accordance with our Green Building Initiative (see http://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/06/norwalk-public-schools-looking-to-clean-up-their-act). Included in their duties will be audits of all cleaning operations at Norwalk schools and training of our custodial staff. Identifying and correcting problems like having inadequate recycling bins (or custodians who don’t use them when present) is part of their assignment. The policy Steve Colarossi mentions laid the policy groundwork for this; the Hillyard Rovic contract will make sure it gets implemented.

One and Done. June 3, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Ooops. Sounds like the duly elected representatives were actually doing this behind the scenes.
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Maybe the task force should spend time on other initiatives.
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Or maybe the mayor should direct his hired help who is in charge of grants move on those available?
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Or maybe the mayor should work with the facilities committee of the duly elected common council to work on solar panels on our buildings?
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Or maybe the mayor should work with the Governor and the DEEP to abate Manresa (if he has time while campaigning for him)?
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Or maybe the mayor should do his job?
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Maybe we just need a task force to manage all the task forces and make sure they aren’t getting in the way of people we are paying huge salaries to do this kind of work.
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One and Done.

Don't Panic June 3, 2014 at 1:54 pm

@Mike Lyons,
Who among those currently employed by the BOE is now going to lose their job or be reassigned as a result of this outsourcing of duties to Hillyard Rovic? Presumably someone whose job description included “training of custodial staff, identifying and correcting problems like having inadequate recycling bins (or custodians who don’t use them when present) and making sure that the policy passed in 2012 got implemented.” How many poor performance reviews did this person (or persons) get since 2012? Has the union agreed to supervision by non-city staff instead of management? Has the BOE determined that HR staff have been sufficiently vetted to have them introduced into the school environment around our children? Why, in a city full of smart people, can’t we hire management skills and enrich our own citizens instead of always buying them from profiteers?

Dave McCathy June 3, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I have to correct my learned colleage, Mr. Collarossi a slight bit. It is absolutely true that under his leadership, the Policy Committee of the BoE did update the appropriate policy to require recycling. He did so at the request of, and in cooperation with, Mr. Alvord and me. Here is the story by Nancy at that time http://norwalk.dailyvoice.com/schools/norwalk-schools-asked-recycle-and-save

Part of the discussions when that policy change was made was that DPW would deliver any and all required recycling bins, etc., as requested. Only 2 or 3 schools (Brookside, Rowayton and I want to say Wolfpit, but I could be wrong) took advantage of that. In many other schools there was recycling collected, which was then just thrown in the trash, etc. etc. The schools were given every opportunity and everything they needed to recycle, and I explained this to Mr. Kydes when he began his task force, which I support and commend.

There was a slight hiccup in education when one Waste Programs Administrator abruptly resigned and it took a while to replace her. The new WPA is excellent and already engaged in the schools.

Unfortunately, it must be made clear that Ms. Lauricella played no part in any of this, and at no time had any input to anything that I am aware of, nor has Mr. Alvord ever “dodged” anything with respect to this issue. As soon as I took over as chairman of the committee, I asked Mr. Alvord about this, and we met with Mr. Colarossi almost immediately and the rest flowed from there. The schools’ execution, as I said, is what has been spotty.

I would also question the $100K in savings. That would represent 1000 tons. Given that the entire city recycles about 6000 tons, I think that is a stretch, but whatever the result, since it is 0 incremental investment, it is worth it.

Suzanne June 3, 2014 at 3:09 pm

It seems quite obvious that this has been an intransigent problem with no apparent will toward a solution until the spike of interest this task force has generated. Whatever the existing staff at Norwalk City Hall responsible, the job still hasn’t been done. Now, there is a plan. I would say that makes this task force an effective part of City Government – and these people are not getting paid!

Nancy Chapman June 3, 2014 at 3:40 pm

@ David McCarthy

Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord informed me yesterday that three schools do recycling: Rowayton, Brookside and Wolfpit. He said that a PTA parent leads it at Rowayton, a teacher leads it at Brookside and a custodian makes it work at Wolfpit.

Suzanne June 3, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Lily Deacon and One and Done, the skepticism of your responses reeks of partisanship in the face of a well-regarded volunteer constituency doing positive work in the community. Have you forgotten that this IS a part of governance? If so, perhaps it is time you volunteer your precious time to making our town better.

Dawn June 4, 2014 at 10:34 am

I have for years wondered why every new structure is not built with solar panels.
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I was driving down 95 last night.
i noticed our new fire station off exit 13.
what struck me was that there was a light on at the side of the building that the sole purpose was to light up a sign that said it was the Norwalk Fire Department.

An unnecessaary light in my opinion. but it does look nice. with solar power i don’t have a problem. So did anypone have the foresight to put solar panels on the building during construction.

Suzanne June 4, 2014 at 11:50 am

Dawn, An ancillary comment to the topic of this conversation. I have often wondered why the vast acreage big box stores occupy with their roof tops are not used for solar power. The fire house certainly has an exposure that would be favorable. Think of the gain in energy back to the grid with the judicious use of solar panels.

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