Submitted by Michael Mason, Karen Fassuliotis, Leslie Tarkington, Bill Drake, Debra Hess, and Andy Duus
Let there be no doubt—Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), with full bipartisan support, will approve the full funding of the repairs to North Mianus School. So, children, parents, teachers and townspeople should not worry. This school will be put back into tip top shape.
The Board of Education (BOE) does not yet have a project to execute or contractors to do the work. When they do, the BET and our taxpayers will be there immediately with all needed funds. After the RTM approves next week, the Board of Education will have more than $2 million for demolition and the hiring of an architect. There is enough money to get through what needs to be done now.
The confusion is that within our town government, appropriations are a process which needs to be followed, even in an emergency. But it in no way means that full funding is not going to be there or delayed. It concerns us that some Democrats and the school administration have misrepresented this process and our commitment to getting the school fixed fast. Instead, they have gotten many residents, especially parents with children in North Mianus School, very upset over a process that is working just as it should.
This isn’t the first school that had to be renovated, repaired, or rebuilt on an emergency basis. Unfortunately, the school system has faced emergency situations at least five times in the last twenty years (Cos Cob HVAC last year, Julian Curtiss roof two years before that) We know that some members of the school administration are relatively new to the Greenwich Public School system, and perhaps they do not understand a process which has worked well. However, other BOE members, many BET members and many Representative Town Meeting (RTM) members have been through this before. For there to be controversy now is perplexing.
There is a process that works. For some reason, Dr. Jones and some BET members aren’t following it. It makes no sense that there are calls to deviate from a process that works. For every other emergency project, the process is:
• Seek immediate funding from the BET and the RTM for demolition to make the site safe and hire an architect.
• Work as quickly as possible to get approved plans built to code and get professional cost estimates
• Agree to a project scope with a specification/timeframe and confirm a budget estimated by qualified construction cost estimators.
• Return to the BET and the RTM with plans and contractor budget for approval of funding.
• Before or while funds are being approved, put the work out to bid, select a contractor and negotiate a contractor (you do not need approved appropriations before you solicit bids).
• Sign the contract. Start the project.
Never has a school budget request been presented for funding with ZERO plans and ZERO contractor estimates. The Schools Director of Facilities explained that the $8.1 million requested was a “guess” and that they would have the preliminary design package in 3 weeks and the bid package within 5-6 weeks. We want to do it right the first time. When Dr. Jones’ staff is ready, the BET and RTM will be ready.
The BET and RTM are immediately approving $2 million for rebuilding of damaged areas and other non-construction costs, including transportation for displaced students for demolition – with full approval likely by April 19th. In the meantime, work is continuing and is expected to continue without interruption.
Contrary to What Has Been Stated, the BET has nothing to do with North Mianus students currently being in four locations rather than two. The Schools administration, not the BET, made all the decisions about where the students went and how the classes were divided. This was an emergency. Neither Board has been asked by the administration for anything different. Everyone is waiting for the GPS administrators’ next steps and a plan.
Relocating displaced students to a single site is a totally separate item which is the decision of Dr. Jones and the BOE. The BOE and School Administration have always relocated to another site or installed temporary modular classrooms every time students are displaced from a school. This requires the selection of a site, design of the space, negotiation of a lease or rental and the signing of a contract by the administration, as well as a negotiation of a contract for their transportation. At the last BOE meeting, Dr. Jones told the BOE that she needs a few months to complete these steps. So, when she finally finishes her tasks, every BET member will be ready to appropriate the relocation money.
Since we expect that North Mianus will be a construction zone for the balance of the year at least, with half the school being renovated, it would make sense if the BOE requests a full renovation now rather than in 7 or 9 years when its currently scheduled. BET Republicans would be amenable to such an approach. But this is a decision for the BOE and the North Mianus community, not for the BET and the RTM.
When the full costs are known and the BOE and Dr. Jones make their decisions, the BET is standing ready to approve funding for rebuilding North Mianus, as well as funding the relocation of students. And you can be sure that if there are any delays in this project, it will not be because of any delayed funding.