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New Norwalk special education facility will wait until August 2016

Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera, right, explains the proposed 2015-16 operating budget Wednesday in City Hall. At left is Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl.

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s “very disappointing,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera said – the Special Education pre-K facility planned for Allen Road will not open this fall.

The plan to renovate the old Roosevelt School at 11 Allen Road and turn it into a Norwalk Early Childhood Center has been working its way through Norwalk government, with an $880,000 special appropriation approved Jan. 13 by the Common Council. The goal was to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) in January and get the construction done by September, but, on Jan. 21, Rivera notified the Board of Education that it will be impossible to get it done in time for the next school year. The facility will likely open in August 2016, he said.

The plan is to renovate the old school to create six classrooms for the first year, and renovate another two the following summer to make it a total of eight classrooms – which is what Norwalk has now, but spread out over four schools. This move was recommended in the 2012 Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) report, which sharply criticized Norwalk’s Special Education program.

“We can have services in one location as opposed to having individuals run all over the school system,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl said to Finance Committee members in December. “… It’s a cost issue, it’s also an education issue. We have seen our costs for Special Ed skyrocket just in the last few years. One of the reasons they tend to go up is, at some point in that child’s education, something happens that goes wrong. Essentially, it’s too late and we have to out-place them.”

A side benefit to the consolidation is that it opens up classrooms at the schools that currently offer pre-K, Rudl said. Marvin Elementary has two such classrooms, and is “quite overcrowded,” he said.

Norwalk Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo in December called the plan to start construction in March “very aggressive,” but expressed confidence. It would be funded with $1.65 million in city funds, including $771,000 of BoE surplus money from 2013-14, he said. Then the city would try to get reimbursement from the state.

“The state in general is not extremely helpful; I am not sure how to put it anyway, lukewarm,” Lo told Finance Committee members. “So we went up there, it wasn’t very well received, but we are pushing along anyways. We are going to submit our paperwork, get all the documents in place and just keep moving forward.”

Rivera’s Jan. 21 letter mentions problems with state approvals as part of the reason it won’t get done as fast as hoped.

Rivera said Rudl had met with Lo and the architect. The highlights of the meeting were:

“State approval process has been much slower than anticipated and, as a result, will now no longer allow us to deliver 6 classroom spaces at Roosevelt by August 2015.

“According to the construction manager, the approved inclusion of therapeutic classrooms (made by Special Ed staff) to enhance the school’s ability to address special needs students was underestimated, and the cost of the project now exceeds the $1.65 million dollar budget allocation.

“Given that we fast-tracked this project, it does not allow us to apply the reimbursable funds towards the project’s completion but only use those funds to reduce the financial exposure in the capital funds budget.

“If we delay the project until 2016 we can submit a budget through the normal budget process that would allow us to utilize the reimbursable funds towards the overall scope of work. In addition, by delaying the project until 2016 and if Common Council, BET and Planning & Zoning approve our Phase II request, then we can potentially deliver the project as a whole all at once in 2016.

“The budget proposal, assuming Phase II approval by Planning & Zoning, BET and the Council, would allow for a total allocation of funds of $2.9 million:

  • $1.65 million currently set aside
  • $0.56 million requested for phase 2
  • $700k of reimbursable expenses from the state
  • Total: $2.9 million

“Given the delays at the state, the additional costs projected by the construction manager over and above the initial estimate by the architect, delaying the project until 2016 would be the best route to go,” Rivera wrote. “This would then allow us to deliver the building in one phase and not force us to value engineer out items that would otherwise be of value to the programs within that building.”

Comments

4 responses to “New Norwalk special education facility will wait until August 2016”

  1. Joanna Cooper

    Very disappointing to say the least. It is heartbreaking! Another years delay is a year lost for many special education students. The preschool years are so critical for early intervention and once lost they can’t be bought back. The need for what this center plans to offer is so great and it’s delayed opening will affect many. Special Education has not faired well in Norwalk for over a decade with numerous independent reports documenting their failure. The state has watched idly by and done nothing significant to intervene. To hear they are part of hold up is not surprising and is rather criminal. I just hope the whole plan does not fall through the cracks of bureaucracy with this delay. That Norwalk’s P&Z, BET and council will approve it when that time comes.

    It is a great plan, great space for the plan and when and if it is finally carried out it will make a big difference on the strained SPED system in Norwalk and the lives of many of our most vulnerable children and teachers who need more support to meet their needs.

    I would like to know who at the state did not sign off on needed funds. Do you have that information Nancy ?

  2. Wait, What?

    “Essentially, it’s too late and we have to out-place them.” Say WHAT? That is precisely the stigma that should be avoided but instead has been an easy, too easy way to just warehouse a student that it is “too late for”. A comment like that should bring an instant reprimand if not termination. If you have any educator, or administrator for that matter that have given up on a segment of the students, its time we give up their contracts.

  3. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Would be interesting to know more about the issues with the state approval process. First, the state, which now operates the New London school district, hires our superintendent away from us mid-school year and now we have to deal with the state bureaucracy delaying our special ed improvement plans? Why is the State of Connecticut not helping our school system?

    Where is Duff? Lavielle? Perone? Wilms? Morris?

  4. Bill

    State approval delays? Why are we paying the state employees $100k+ salaries per year if they can’t accomplish a task in a reasonable amount of time.

    Let’s give these people a raise, right Malloy?

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