Submitted by: Greenwich PTA Council
It’s budget time in Greenwich. That means the BET (the governing Board that sets tax rates and controls the purse strings) is deciding which projects in town will get funding and how much they will get, if any. Chief among the projects that urgently need funding are our schools.
Schools provide a fundamental service to our children, families and our community. Maintaining excellent schools is essential to protecting our quality of life and our property values, and to ensuring that Greenwich remains a beacon to those looking to invest in homes here. Unfortunately, several of the school buildings in Greenwich are literally falling apart and it’s not clear the BET will provide funding to fix them. It is a bizarre contradiction that a town with so much wealth and such a high educational level would have schools that are dilapidated. But that is our tragic reality.
The Central Middle School (CMS) building – built in 1957, more than half a century ago – was found to be “unsafe to occupy” in a Greenwich Building Department structural review in 2021 and students had to be bused to multiple other schools at significant cost, while $1.6 million was spent in temporary structural repairs. There is no question that the school still needs to be rebuilt. And yet, the funding to fix the building is still in question at the BET.
The Board of Education carefully considered the educational specifications for a new building (“Ed Specs”) based on educational and regulatory guidelines and unanimously approved a capital request of $85.5 million. The First Selectman reduced the amount to $75.2 million. A motion was made by a member of the BET Budget Committee to further reduce the amount to $67.5 million. These lower proposed budgets are not based on the Ed Specs, but on penny wise and pound-foolish reactions that have little to do with children’s safety, educational quality, or community needs.
State matching grants are expected to cover 7.2% of the costs for educational spaces. The application deadline for State funding is June 30th, and the BET and then the RTM must allocate the funding before the CMS Building Committee and the Town can apply for State funding. Failing to appropriate adequate funds for the project would significantly delay the project and add to costs.
Central Middle School is in dire need of repair but it’s not the only school in dire need. Old Greenwich School (OGS), which was built in 1902, also requires funding for badly needed renovations to address very serious issues with ADA compliance, safety and security, air quality, sewage overflow in classrooms, lack of fire sprinklers in the multistory building, and a lack of adequate classroom space. Students with wheelchairs, crutches or casts need to be carried up flights of stairs because the school is in violation of longstanding ADA compliance laws. A complaint filed in 2020 with the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) about ADA non-compliance put the Town at risk of being fined and/or subjected to a consent decree. The town agreed in 2021 to make short term remediations and to bring the school building into compliance during the school’s imminent renovation. And yet 2 years later, the First Selectman deferred construction funds for OGS to a future budget year and the BET has not been supportive of funding for the needed building work. The estimated cost of the work required at Old Greenwich School is $35.9 million. The Board of Education unanimously approved proceeding with the full renovation of OGS and, like CMS, the OGS renovation is eligible for partial matching funding from the State. At a bare minimum, the BET needs to provide $1.1 million in interim funding to keep the OGS Building project moving forward. If there is no funding, the project will be delayed a minimum of 2 years and the Old Greenwich Building Committee estimates an additional $2 to $3 Million in costs will get added for each year the OGS building project is delayed.
As much as OGS needs urgent repairs, there’s a third school, Julian Curtiss, that the Town has in the past placed an even higher priority on getting significant renovation to address most of the same issues as OGS. This year, the BET has discussed funding approximately $800,000 for a smaller set – really, a bare minimum set – of interim fixes at Julian Curtiss that includes HVAC upgrades, ADA compliance remediation, and security. We owe our children better. We owe our town better. For Greenwich to remain a community that people want to move to and families want to live in, we need to provide top-tier education in educational facilities that are, at the very least, safe and up to current building standards.
With this in mind we, the Greenwich PTA Council, representing the PTAs of the Greenwich Public Schools and advocating on behalf of the students, respectfully demand the BET:
- Fully fund $85.5 million to rebuild Central Middle School,
- Fund the full $35.9 million renovation of Old Greenwich School or, at the very minimum, fund $1.1 million to continue the OGS project,
- Fund the remediation work at Julian Curtiss.
This is not too much to ask and anything short of this is dangerous, risky and embarrassing for the Town of Greenwich.
Greenwich PTA Council