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.”
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.’”