RANEY: Is the JC Renovation Cost an Efficient Use of Town Money? Are we making a $1.9M mistake?

Submitted by Brian Raney

The Board of Estimation & Taxation Budget Committee didn’t address an important question about the Julian Curtiss  (JC) renovation included in the proposed First Selectman’s Budget (the Schools portion of which came from the Board of Education) – Is it an efficient use of our money?

In the proposed budget, there are projections for future years.  Many schools have full renovation line items in the next 15 years.  There are also on-going maintenance projects for the current year, which include 5-year projections, some of which specify which school will be done in a given year, eg HVAC at Julian Curtiss in FY2024-2025.  This is redundant if a full renovation happens, as those same costs are included in the renovation or no longer required, such as that JC HVAC work.  (Don’t believe me?  Check out the Project Information Sheets in the Proposed Capital Budget.)

There are two full school renovations planned for the next 5 years – JC in 2022 and Old Greenwich (OG) in 2024.  Education Specifications are complete for JC and almost done for OG.

There are concerns among many about the scope of the Ed Specs for JC and expanding space at a school that is only at 60% capacity.  For comparison, OG is at 79%.  Even Parkway is at 79%.

In the next 5 years, JC has about $5.9M in identifiable maintenance costs.  OG has about $9.3M   The cost of the JC renovation is $26.7M.  The cost of the OG renovation is $28.2M.  If we do the full renovation, we save the cost of the 5-year maintenance.  The net cost of the OG renovation would only be $18.9M vs the $20.9M for JC – a savings of $1.9M.

Another way to look at it is what’s more affordable to maintain for the next 5 years – JC at $5.9M or OG at $9.3M?

Another measure of bang for our buck is how many students we’re impacting.  Even if we consider the school capacity rather than enrolled students, it’s cheaper on a per seat basis to do OG.

Central Middle School isn’t scheduled for renovation until 2033 but has $21.5M in maintenance in the next 5yrs. That’s $10M above any elementary school.  Not paying twice for that maintenance would be a huge win. 2033 is a long way out but the reports on the school as it is today are not good. BOE has a capital request this year to do a detailed report to understand its condition (which, by the way, undermines even the directional usefulness of the KG+D report).  Sadly, there isn’t enough information to include CMS in the decision of which school to renovate next.

We have a lot of “maintenance debt” on our schools that’s coming due.  Spending $1.9M less will be helpful.  In fact, that savings can be applied to JC or CMS.  Win-win!  Hopefully the full BET will ask the question.

Brian Raney
writing solely for himself