CMS Building Committee Votes 7-1 Not to Explore Siting Options Including Pomerance Park

On Tuesday morning the Central Middle School building committee held their weekly meeting.

CMS, constructed in 1958, was condemned on February 4, 2022. That memorable day the building department declared the structure, “Dangerous and Unsafe for Human Occupancy.” Students were dispersed to other schools that had some room to spare.

The school was shored up, and students returned, but the repairs were only intended to last about five years.

Tuesday’s building committee meeting featured two motions from ex officio member Michael Spilo, representing the RTM.

The motions were moved to the start of the meeting, but first, in his chairman’s updates, Tony Turner clarified that the new member of the committee, Rachel Koven, had been appointed by the First Selectman Fred Camillo, not by the full Board of Selectmen.

Ms Koven is representing Central Middle School’s neighbors. Tuesday was her second meeting.

Ms Koven wrote an open letter to the BOE published as a LTE in April on GFP urging that the new CMS be the same size as the current one.

She also testified at the April BOE meeting that the building committee had not been transparent and that neighbors had been unaware of the plans for the new school.

“What I understand is the renderings that have been passed around have it such that the school is going to be placed up on the hill and impact the neighbors on the hill. None of us have been notified. None of us were allowed to have any input into the designs,” she said, adding that neighbors had concerns about rock blasting and destruction of wildlife habitat.

“No one has notified us,” she said. “And also the lack of transparency for the budget.”

“We are told this building is going to be larger and larger, and we are concerned about the impact on the neighborhood,” she added.

Since her comments a second community forum was held. (The first was in March).

One Year Anniversary of the CMS Building Committee

Clare Kilgallen, who vice chairs the committee, joked that July 11 was the one year anniversary of the building committee’s formation.

“No Balloons, no flowers,” she said.

“And no budget,” Turner joked.

Two motions were proposed by Michael Spilo, who is an ex-officio member of the committee.

The wording of the first motion was “Motion to consider potential cost savings from other siting options including but not limited to build-in-place and/or relocation of fields to adjacent Pomerance Park.”

As a preface, Mr. Spilo said the term ‘busing’ should be avoided.

“It has charged connotations,” he said. “Students currently travel to Central by bus, by car and some on foot. I don’t believe that at any point students will be forced to travel by bus, and nobody is suggesting this.”

Mr. Spilo said ‘other people’ had mentioned busing students to absorb excess capacity at Central, which he said was as much as 400 students, to redistrict and relocate children from Eastern Middle School or Western Middle School.

“None of this redistricting, nor relocating the building has anything to do with any plan of the BOE, and if excess capacity is planned for Central for that purpose, that should be clarified because it has implications for the entire community,” Spilo said.

The mention of busing may have been a reference to discussion during the June 28 Republican Town Committee meeting where Tom Waurishuk (not a member of the RTC) said he worked at Eastern Middle School and described overcrowding there, with some classes upwards of 26 students.

“There should be a shift of some students to Central once that school is done,” he suggested. “If Eastern was lowered by 80 students, it would be perfect.”

“I’m not talking about kids down by Tod’s Point, but the kids who go to Eastern and live in the upper part of Valley Road – they’re already on a bus,” Waurishuk said. “Whether they go a mile-and-a-half to Eastern of a mile-and-a-half to Central…Having a little flexibility a few years down the road is not a bad thing.”

Waurishuk said maybe some of the EMS students would want to go to a brand new school.

BOE chair Joe Kelly said adamantly that the BOE was not discussing redistricting.

“It’s something you might have to do,” Mr. Waurishuk said.

Motion by Michael Spilo to Explore Alternate Siting and Building Placement, Including Pomerance Park

Mr. Spilo’s motion was for the building committee to consider potential cost savings from other siting options, including placing the building and/or relocating the fields to Pomerance Park.

Building committee member Nisha Arora, representing the BET, seconded the motion.

Spilo explained it was fiscally, environmentally and educationally prudent to explore options, and that there were options that would leave the current school in place during construction.

For example, one alternative would be to build the school in the fields, and subsequently build new fields in Pomerance Park.

Another option would be to relocate some or all of the parking to Pomerance Park, which he said would leave more room for the fields if the building is moved out of the hill. (See below)

Proposed CMS building (white) cuts into a bit of a wooded hill (see purple lines).
Existing CMS building.

“Given the scope and cost we have, we would continue to be remiss…not to explore fully other alternatives, while simultaneously proceeding with the expedient path,” he added.

“If we don’t explore the alternatives now, we may be forced to explore them later, and that will result in delays,” he said.

He said he’d been a parent of students who had been at schools during construction on campus as well as schools in California that regularly use modular classrooms to accommodate changes in student population.

“I know that noise and dust trigger allergies and asthma, and disruption to traffic from construction and getting to and from school, and this can be far worse than any other option, while relocating the students to a nearby facility which has outdoor and athletic facilities would be preferable to most parents, especially if it’s nearby and doesn’t involve a lot of extra travel.”

View of Central Middle School from across the field at Orchard Street by Coachlamp Lane. File photo

During discussion Mr. Turner said, “I have listened to every word of feedback we’ve gotten now from our community engagement forums, and I have high confidence we’re on the right track in how we’re moving forward with design, placement on the fields.”

“We’re bound by building to the ed specs and requirements from the Board of Education. I feel good about the community feedback.”

“I understand and this seems to be the path of least resistance,” Spilo said. ” It does not preclude us from getting alternatives and exploring costs and potential advantages of other alternatives. I think it’s shortsighted not to have done this starting back last September.”

Nisha Arora agreed with Mr. Spilo.

“This is simply to consider and evaluate other options,” Arora said. “As part of our state grant application, we as a building committee must confirm to the state that we did consider all different options..”

Ms Koven, the new representative to the committee from the CMS neighborhood said, “Considering how over budget the project is currently, might it be worth at least exploring, on behalf of the taxpayer, another option?”

Joe Rossetti said the committee had already explored other options for situating the new building on site.

“We’ve covered that base very well,” he said. “Moving the school, or fields, or other parts of the project off site to Pomerance or wherever, I think it’s basically obvious that moving these facilities further away from the current campus into public park space would add significant, overwhelming costs to the project, and don’t merit evaluating whether it is cost effective.”

“We’ve done a good job of evaluating and discussing quite extensively the various options and adhering to our charter requirements,” Rossetti said.

The last person to comment was Lauren Rabin, who is also ex-officio, representing the Board of Selectmen.

“I think if it really did exhaust everything it wouldn’t keep coming up as an idea…Maybe we haven’t done as good of a job of pros and cons in a concise manner. Just to put it to bed one way or another,” Rabin said.

The motion failed in a vote of 1-7-0 with Ms Arora voting yes on the motion and Christina Poccia, Tony Turner, Clare Kilgallen, Tod Klair, Joe Rossetti, Josh Caspi and Laura Kostin all voting no.

From there, Mr. Spilo withdrew his second motion, which was to explore and recommend potential reductions in building programming space based on state guidelines and comparable projects.

On Wednesday, July 12, there is a meeting in the CMS cafeteria for the CMS perimeter neighbors from 5:30pm to 6:30pm, followed by the third community engagement forum in the auditorium starting at 7:00pm.

See also:

KOVEN: Build a New Central Middle School the Same Size as Current Building April 24, 2023