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Pool included in NHS design as ‘add alternate’ – project budget cut to $189M

Norwalk High School. (File photo.)

Jim Giuliano of Construction Solutions Group, the city’s project manager for new school construction, during Tuesday’s Common Council meeting via Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — The necessary $36 million in cuts have already been made to the preliminary Norwalk High School construction budget, project manager Jim Giuliano said Tuesday.

The Common Council went on to approve the grant application for the controversial project, on a 13-1 vote. This follows the revelation that although the State legislature approved 80 percent reimbursement for construction of the new high school, as State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) predicted, the bill authorized a $189 million total cost rather than the $225 million that had been expected when the conceptual design was developed and the idea was approved by the City.

Council member Thomas Keegan (R-District D) voted against the grant application.

“We are in the design phase of this building, which should be the crown jewel of our public school system. Yet, right off the bat, we’re already looking to make sacrifices. And I’m not comfortable with that,” Keegan said. “And I just want to know, do we have enough money to build this high school?”

Keegan also asked this question at last week’s Land Use and Building Management Committee meeting.

Giuliano replied Tuesday, “Yeah, Tom, we feel we do have enough money.”

A summary. At top, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), second from right, announces the project in December.

The programming intended for the high school – which is really three high schools in one facility – is intact, Giuliano said. The team looked at types of materials and had “more accurate estimate numbers” because things had gone out to bid. “That’s where… we’re able to get a lot of the savings.”

He continued, “Like I said, we just feel comfortable. And we’re going to move forward with the design. And Tom, you know, we’ve only done what they call the conceptual design.”

The high school’s pool is a major item of concern. Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said last week that a new pool would cost $8 million, creating, “financial difficulties to figure out how we can include it in the project.”

Giuliano said Tuesday that the pool is included in the current budget as an “add alternate, as a safety valve.”

Lo was present but took a back seat to Giuliano, offering no comments.

The pool design is going forward as a contingency. “As the design develops further, our estimates become more accurate because we know exactly what we are doing,” Giuliano explained. The pool design will be incorporated into the documents, “And if it looks like we are going to be able to afford the pool, we’re going to move forward with building the pool.”

With the pool included as an “add alternate,” the team is “much more comfortable saying that we can meet the budget requirement of $189 million,” Giuliano said.

The lower overall amount for the construction means that Norwalk’s share has dropped, from $45 million to $38 million. Finance Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) suggested last week that the $7 million difference could be spent on the project anyway, that Norwalk could invest it in the project in addition to what the State has authorized.

Burnett was absent from Tuesday’s Council meeting.

Some have alleged that the “budget cut” information was withheld until after Duff was reelected to the State Senate. The authorization amounts were public knowledge: the $225 million was spoken of as the proposal made its way to Norwalk capital budget approval in April, and the $189 million authorization was passed Oct. 1 in the Statehouse.

It was first discussed at a public City Hall meeting last week.

Governmental bodies are working toward making the Dec. 31 grant application deadline: Tuesday’s Council authorizations, of the grant application and of assigning a Committee to oversee the project, needed to be done now so that meeting minutes could be included in the application to the State.

The Board of Education Facilities Committee is expected to consider “revised design specs” for the high school Wednesday evening.

Giuliano said it’s still early in the process.

“Really, the design hasn’t started. We haven’t selected an architect at this time, nor have we selected a construction manager,” he said. “We’re working with an architect and a construction manager just on a preliminary basis only. So that way, we do go in with a better comfort level that we are accurate in our in our estimate, and that everybody is on board. You know, the professionals are on board that, ‘Yes, you know, we can build this building for that amount of money.’”

6 comments

Bryan Meek November 11, 2020 at 6:55 am

The New Lebanon school in Greenwich started off as an 80% reimbursement project.

It is mostly done and they have gotten back 45% so far.

This project is going to end up costing Norwalk taxpayers 9 figures easily.

Jim and Alan are just doing their jobs, but we’d be well served to kill this before it kills us and our ability to afford the schools we actually needed in the areas of the city we need them.

Due in part to Covid, our bus budget exploded to $12 million this year when it should be half that because we are bussing children all over the city and back. That would pay for a new school in 6 years.

We still have 20 years of debt service on the $50 odd million in renovations and repairs done to NHS this century. When are they going to tell us how close to Strawberry Hill Ave the new building will have to be?

Hold on to your wallets.

ConcernedToo November 11, 2020 at 7:30 am

So we are about to become a beachfront town of what, 90,000 people and we can’t afford to have a single publicly owned pool, even with the state agreeing to pay part of the cost. We’re on our way to being one of the only area high schools without a swim team after a long tradition of having a successful program. The hundreds of kids who learned to swim there every summer just won’t learn anymore – because why would a beachfront community want its kids to be able to learn how to swim? This is a travesty.

I’d add in that the “arts academy” portion of this project is entirely aspirational – no one really knows how that will work and I’d be surprised if there’s much interest from parents in New Canaan, Darien, Wilton, Weston in sending kids to Norwalk High anyway (as is the plan) because Norwalk High is academically inferior to the schools in their own towns. But we’re spending resources on that while potentially removing the pool, something that is actually used, and used to an enormous extent, today.

Anyone believe this thing will actually come in under budget and a pool will get built?

John O'Neill November 11, 2020 at 9:11 am

Some thoughts for this morning:
1) When was the last time a construction project this size came in under budget? Has anyone seen inflation figures for costs of building materials?
2) Greg Burnett would like to throw $ 7 million into project, because it was part of original estimates. Hey Greg, no offense but $ 7 Million is a lot of money and it’s not yours.
3) Anyone with the slightest bit of business sense will pause this project before first sledge hammer begins knocking walls down on County Street. Many moving parts and it’s as clear as mud.
4) Tom Keegan ran on a “Common Sense” platform. It’s obvious to me that unlike Coronavirus Common Sense is not contagious, as demonstrated in the 13-1 vote. Why do I picture penguins heading towards a cliff??

Mark Caldwell November 11, 2020 at 10:13 am

As a retired teacher who attended the Norwalk school system, I am surprised to hear that 50 percent of a teachers evaluation is based on meeting the social/emotional needs of the students.
How will this be measured? As mandated reporters, teachers are aware of the needs of their students. However, it is then best to let the school social worker and psychologist take over who’s primary purpose is to meet the emotional and mental health needs of students. Let teacher’s teach. We cannot be all things to all people.

Norwalker November 11, 2020 at 10:17 am

Does the new school design include a field house? Because if they build a pool and not a field house they are making a huge mistake! A field house should’ve been included in one of the high schools original rebuilds years ago. The right size field house in the new NHS can be used by both high schools sports year round. A pool is such a limited use capacity.

stuart garrelick November 11, 2020 at 10:31 am

I am finding it hard to believe that we can achieve our needs for $36,000,000 less than originally calculated. Did we pull the $325 million figure out of a hat? And as my letter yesterday asked,
I would still like to know why we can’t ask adjacent towns that would also benefit to pick up the differance.
By the way, does anyone relly believe that we will meet budget on whatever final preconstruction figure we come up with? And the differance will be paid by………………………….

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