KOSTIN: Obstruction & Obfuscation – The Plot to Downsize and Delay CMS

Submitted by Laura Kostin, CMS Building Committee Member Appointed by the Board of Education

The Central Middle School Building Committee is moving faithfully ahead with the task of building a new CMS, after it was condemned in February. Every single member of the Committee has been working earnestly to move the project forward, except for one member. That member, Nisha Arora, who represents the Town of Greenwich Finance Board on the Committee has a very different vision for the future of Central.  

First the basics… For those who may be unaware, the Greenwich Finance Board controls the purse-strings of the budget, and it is currently Republican-controlled, which means the powerful tie-breaking vote on the Board belongs to the Republican Chairman. Ms. Arora is a member of the Board’s Republican caucus.  Our Finance Board is called the Board of Estimate and Taxation, or BET.  

If you are a parent at Central Middle School or any of the elementary schools that feed into it, you should be very concerned about the future of your middle school. Because if Nisha Arora has her way, Central Middle School as we know it could be shrunk by 45% or nearly half. 

Under Ms. Arora’s ideation, Central Middle School would be reduced to 60-75k square feet, smaller than some of the elementary schools that feed into it. Julian Curtiss Elementary is 62,000 square feet, Cos Cob School is 83,000 square feet and North Street School is close at 57,500 square feet.  

Ms. Arora has been strident about her vision for a downsized CMS in meetings and in the press. She has also tried to delay the project by obstructing the Building Committee’s efforts to engage an architect for design, claiming there aren’t adequate funds to do so. It’s clear she does not want an architect to begin designing a building according to current specifications, because she wants the project to be diminished. 

It’s time to set the record straight, so CMS parents and taxpayers are aware. 

1. The current CMS building is 110,000 square feet. The Board of Education’s approved specifications call for the new building to be sized at 115,311 square feet… an increase of roughly 5,000 square feet.  

2. When Central was built decades ago, the standard size for core academic classrooms was 650 square feet.  The minimum space standard is now 800 square feet. An increase of 150 square feet. 150 square feet x 30 core classrooms = 4,500 square feet. The space-related math isn’t difficult. 

3. The current CMS building at 110,000 square feet is inadequate as it doesn’t even have needed spaces for modern Special Education instruction and the number of students requiring Special Education services in the district continues to grow.

4. Right now, CMS has 508 students.  In 8 years, enrollment is still expected to exceed 500 students. Why would we build a school 45% smaller than we have now for the same number of students walking through the door?  Enrollment is cyclical.  The Board of Education’s latest enrollment report acknowledges there will be years of declines but looking out 10 years, “a projected recovery in town birth rates will increase elementary enrollment to produce a cyclical increase in enrollment.”  This is a building that needs to endure for decades, some might even say the next 100 years.

 5. The CMS Building Committee was given $2.5m for initial Architectural and Engineering work.  The Building Committee wants to engage an architect for Schematic Design and Land Use Approvals.

-The cost of Schematic Design is $497,000.

-The cost of Land Use Approvals is $53,000.

These amounts are far below our appropriation.

6. Architecture firm, SLAM, has priced the full scope of their work for the project from design through completion at roughly $4m.  The $2.5m appropriation was never intended to cover the full scope of the architect’s work. Later stage services including construction management were always intended to be covered by the CMS project’s regular budget. So, there is no cost overrun as Ms. Arora has implied in meetings and in the press. 

7.  No one knows the true cost of the project until it is bid out. The Board of Education took an average of initial estimates from multiple architects this fall, which was $85.5m given the rising cost of materials. Any lower amount is obviously preferable.  Nothing has been bid yet, so the actual cost is unknown.  For Ms. Arora to claim that the budget is “blowing up” is an unfair mischaracterization. 

8. Ms. Arora has complained about a lack of transparency because the Building Committee met in Executive Session during the interview and deliberation process when the Committee was in the process of hiring an Owner’s Representative and an Architect. Sensitive hiring and bid discussions are always done in Executive Session. The Building Committee’s votes are public.  Our meetings are also public unless we are advised by the Town Attorney to conduct our meetings in Executive Session for a specific reason. 

9. Ms. Arora has also taken issue with the hiring of Construction Solutions Group (CSG) to be the Committee’s Owner’s Representative. Owner’s Rep’s provide project management services. CSG worked on the rebuild of New Lebanon, the most recent and significant school building project for the Greenwich Public Schools. For those who don’t know, New Lebanon came in on-time and under budget. Ms. Arora has also made a range of unfortunate insinuations about the firm, which have been found to be untrue.

10. The CMS Building Committee is working diligently and collaboratively toward the completion of a safe and appropriate learning environment for students in 2026. 

Laura Kostin

CMS Building Committee Member Appointed by the Board of Education