Submitted by Dan Quigley, Greenwich RTC Chair
Our community avoided a tragedy the day the ceiling collapsed at North Mianus School. An event where children and staff could have died or been injured, particularly in the one place where they should have felt safe, would have taken years for families and this Town to recover from.
I want to make one thing abundantly clear to the parents of North Mianus School and the citizens of Greenwich. BET Republicans are fully committed to providing the necessary funds to repair the damage, make the school safe again for children and staff, and have children back in school as soon as possible. There will be no delay to the process of achieving this.
Sadly, BET Democrats have characterized this unfortunate and unforeseen event as confirmation of their tired and empty mantra that Republicans have ignored our school infrastructure. The facts argue strongly against this. Engineers have determined that this situation was unrelated to any deferred maintenance or neglect by the BET or the BOE. Instead, it appears to be a product of 1920 construction techniques combined with poorly designed renovations that took place in 1999. This was not even mentioned as an item of concern in the BOE’s 2018 Master Facilities Plan. Despite everyone’s best efforts and intentions, accidents do happen.
Now the process of repairing the school begins. When the BOE requested an interim appropriation of $8.1 million, this consisted of the BOE’s own “back of the napkin” estimate of what repairs and reconstruction might cost, plus a generous 20% contingency. At the moment, there is no project to fund. Rather than approve the full amount of this rough estimate, the BET budget committee approved approximately $2.1 million for the initial engineering and design work to develop a professional cost estimate. This will cause no delay.
This was done with the full understanding that once the Town’s building department approved the proposed design work, the BOE would begin the process for securing a contractor to do the necessary rebuilding and refurbishing of the school. The goal is to have the students safely back in school as soon as humanly possible.
All of this debate raises the obvious questions of why has this issue become so acrimonious and why are North Mianus parents so worried? Unfortunately, an unforeseen accident like this is being used by BET Democrats to sow confusion among local parents and label their Republican counterparts as being against schools in hopes that it will result in votes in the next election.
It is important for all school parents to understand that politics are at play here. Despite the fact that the proposed Town budget included the 5.5% increase
($9 million dollars) in the school operating budget requested by the BOE, the BET Democrats voted against the budget. Let me restate this. The BET Democrats voted against a budget that included every dollar requested by the BOE, while every Republican voted for it. Under the Town Charter, the Republican BET chairman had to cast a tie breaking vote to approve the budget opposed by the Democrats. Without this tie breaking vote, the budget would have reverted to the prior year’s budget which would have had severe consequences for the schools.
It’s been a long year since last spring’s fear mongering, and ultimately unnecessary debate surrounding the school budget proposed during the unprecedented COVID shutdown. Remember, the outcome of that debate was that our schools were so flush with funds that they returned $3.5 million dollars to the town.
Despite the fact that the BET’s Republicans have given the BOE everything they asked for, the Town could still be subjected to months of loud, unfortunate and unnecessary outrage over education issues. Rest assured, I am confident everything will work out in the end, just like it did last year; despite the angry Democratic discourse, not because of it.