The Board of Selectmen voted on “A request for Municipal Improvement status for the Old Greenwich School project” at their meeting on Thursday morning.
The discussion was a second read of the request.
The first read was on March 22 meeting, prior to BET decision day on the fiscal 2024 budget, where Democratic members urged the full board’s approval of $34.9 million for a total renovation of the school.
That did not happen.
The BET did approve $1.1 million to complete Architecture & Engineering work.
Flooding, Security, HVAC, ADA Compliance, Space Shortage
The school has several overdue needs that have become increasingly urgent, including a remedy for repeated flooding in the school’s lower classroom level, aka “the dip,” where sewage water has repeatedly come up through bathrooms after heavy rain. Custodians operate an emergency generator to maintain basic services and to operate sewage and stormwater pumps.
There is a need to address lack of building entry security, notably the absence of a secure vestibule for visitor management.
HVAC is out of compliance. For example, to circulate air during the pandemic, teachers opened windows even in the cold winter months.
There is also a need for additional classroom space. Enrollment at the school has grown consistently over the decades and is projected to continue in coming years. Many classrooms are undersized, and some are L-shaped, which is problematic for a teacher’s sight lines. OT/PT is being conducted in a storage closet.
Importantly, the school is not fully ADA compliant. There is no elevator in the building. It operates on six different levels, all accessed by stairs. An injured student unable to climb stairs winds up working with substitute teacher on the ground level of the school.
A recent photo of a student on crutches hopping up the vast steps to the main entry of the building was shared at the BET public hearing in advance of decision day.
At the Selectmen meeting, James Waters, chair of the Old Greenwich School building committee, asked for the Selectmen’s support and talked about a “heightened sense of urgency.”
He said his group continued to “move with a purpose” and that “every week counts.”
He noted that while the Board of Education had asked for full construction funding, they also indicated that, at a minimum, they wanted the building committee to have the $1.1 million for incremental A&E work.
He noted that the sense of urgency came from the three conditions placed on that $1.1 million.
First, the funds cannot be accessed until the BET’s independent estimator completes his work in June.
Second, the funds cannot be accessed until the building committee provides an update on construction funding, which they are aiming to do in June.
Third, the funds cannot be accessed until the project gets “Municipal Improvement and approval by the P&Z Commission of the project Preliminary Site Plan approval through the RTM appeal process.”
Waters said his committee anticipated running out of funding this fall, prior to satisfying this final MI condition, unless the MI process is expedited in summer 2023.
“This is why we’re here today,” he said.
Waters said the committee had been getting expert guidance from the P&Z Chair Margarita Alban and the Town Planner Patrick LaRow.
Also, the Owner’s Representative, Morganti Group, had met with P&Z staff more than once and indicated they would be ready to appear before P&Z with a pre-application in May or June.
A formal application to P&Z would then follow in June or July.
In the past three weeks, Waters said his committee received great feedback during engagement sessions with parents, teachers, and students and planned to host a similar session with Old Greenwich neighbors in the next couple of weeks.
“We’ve also made significant strides in the design process and expect to narrow down our recommended design within the next month,” Waters said, adding that this week, which is public school vacation week, engineers and architects have been conducting thorough assessments focused on mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection, and an in-depth ADA assessment.
Also, phase 1 environmental studies have been underway, including the drilling of Geotechnical borings and assessing interior hazardous materials.
Next week the committee plans to interview candidates for a Construction Manager that they hope to have on board by the end of the month.
The Construction Manager will help provide professional estimates on the chosen Schematic Design, which the committee seeks to complete by the end of June.
Waters urged the Selectmen to vote without delay, noting that the committee’s current funding will run out this fall if they don’t start working with the Planning & Zoning Commission.
“Every week counts right now. There are going to be plenty of hearings and public meetings in the coming weeks and months I’m sure plenty of questions for us to answer.”
After Mr. Waters’ presentation, Lauren Rabin noted, “We’re not giving you MI approval. We’re approving that you can take it to Planning & Zoning.”
She said she had been concerned should replacement of the school be determined to be more cost effective than a renovation once independent cost estimates come in, that the building committee would return to the Selectmen. She said her concerns were allayed.
Rabin, who like Democratic Selectperson Janet Stone McGuigan, serves on a different building committee, recommended coming up with “a playbook” or set of “best practices” for building committees.
“We do have four building committees going on simultaneously,” she said.
Mr. Waters said he had received helpful input from other building committee chairs and he was sure the chairs of the Julian Curtiss School, Central Middle School, and GHS vestibule committee would all be happy to help put together a set of best practices.
Lauren Rabin made the motion to “approve submission of MI status to Planning & Zoning.”
The vote was unanimous in favor: 3-0.
After the meeting, Waters reached out with a comment.
“I’m pleased that the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously today for us to begin the Municipal Improvement process.The Board of Education also voted unanimously on it last month. In my mind it shows the intense public support for the OGS renovation and we thank everyone for their support.”