Report by Paula Antolini
October 16, 2017 12:18PM EDT
Setting the Record Straight on School Building Renovations – Letter to the Editor by Lawrence Craybas
By Lawrence Craybas
Over the next day to two you may receive a postcard or robo phone call with misinformation on the proposed renovations of Bethel’s two elementary schools, Johnson and Rockwell. The intent is to cloud the reasoning behind doing this necessary work, and to obscure the real cost to taxpayers. So beware, you are not hearing the truthful facts about why these renovations should be done now rather than later.
First of all, the building renovations are being recommended by the elected members of the Board of Education and not solely by the School System. The Superintendent of Schools is the Board’s only employee and serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the School System. The Superintendent, her Administrative staff, and the professional consultants hired by the BOE helped confirm the problems that exist and have become more complicated since the Board’s initial study in 2010. These facility issues are expected to worsen over time. The School District’s Administrative Staff has been charged with detailing the educational specifications and building changes needed to make these two buildings more relevant and accommodative to the teaching and learning needs expected over the next 25-30 years.
State Statutes give a “School Board” extensive authority independent of the Town regarding oversight of school facilities. The BOE serves as agents of the Town and the State.
Our fundamental charge is:
To maintain good public elementary and secondary schools; to implement the educational interests of the state; and to provide such other educational activities as in the Board’s judgment will best serve the interests of the School District
Board of Education Connecticut statutory responsibilities include:
– To implement the educational interests of the State:
– To be in charge of schools, i.e. the care, maintenance and operation of buildings, lands, apparatus and other property used for school purposes, and provide a safe school setting
– To conduct a continuing study of the needs of existing school facilities and of a long-term school building program, and then, from time to time, make recommendations based on such studies to the Town
– To report to the Commissioner of Administrative Services on the condition of its school facilities and the action taken to implement Bethel’s long-range school building program
– To adopt and implement an indoor air quality program that provides for ongoing maintenance and the facility reviews necessary for the maintenance and improvement of indoor air quality of its facilities
– To provide an appropriate learning environment for all its students which includes adequate instructional books, supplies, materials, equipment, staffing, facilities and technology, and provide such other educational activities as in its judgment will best serve the interests of the School District
Here’s a simple way to look at the roles and responsibilities associated with Bethel schools:
– The buildings are assets owned by the Town (i.e. the Town is the landlord)
– The School District is a tenant in each building
– The BOE, on behalf of the Town, is the “caretaker of these assets”
The Board of Education began its review of the Johnson and Rockwell buildings in 2010. An extensive forensic study was authorized for each school and was performed by Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc.. DRA utilized their consultants, engineers, cost analysts, their experienced CT school architects, and strategic school planners. When the results were presented to the prior Town Administration, the decision was not to go forward but to further study the options presented.
Given the continuing deterioration of both schools coupled with ADA and OSHA code violations, inadequate electrical service to accommodate technology, below standard air quality, and new hazardous material concerns of the presence of PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyl an organic chlorine compound widely used as coolant fluids in electrical apparatus, in window caulking, paint, and floor tile mastic) the Board unanimously voted to immediately update the 2010 study and move forward to “renovate as new” both school buildings.
The extensive re-analyses that were done over the last two years confirmed the need and establishing a more detailed cost for again “doing nothing”, i.e. approximately $29 Million over the same 25 year period proposed for bonding the renovations.
The estimated project cost of renovating both schools simultaneously is capped at $65,831,143 dollars with a reimbursement rate from the state of 45% of eligible costs. Long term bonding is expected to cover approximately $40-42 Million of the total cost with the difference covered by the state’s reimbursement, i.e. $23-25 Million. The construction contract will be bid as a Guaranteed Maximum Price Contract with a Construction Manager at Risk stipulation. An Owner’s Representative will be hired by the Town to assure contractual compliance, and will be working with the CM to find cost savings through value engineering opportunities. The Board’s objective is to deliver both renovations on plan and on time.
Why now? School Construction funding is available in the current state budget. It is separate from the department operating expenditures that will be budgeted in the Biennium Budget. The Board confirmed this fact with our Area Legislators, most importantly with Senator Toni Boucher (Co-Chair of the General Assembly’s Education Committee and Vice-Chair of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee), and with Senator Michael MacLachlan who is also a member of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee. All four Area Legislators jointly wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Administrative Services supporting and endorsing Bethel’s School Renovation Projects.
Construction dollars and reimbursement funding are expected to be significantly less, and qualification criteria more controlled and stricter in the years ahead in light of Connecticut’s financial problems. There is no better time than now for Bethel to seek state funding support for the school renovations we need. Bethel either pursues these dollars now or we stand back and see available funding go to School Districts with less of a need than what we have presented to the Office of School Construction Grants.
We either approve this $65 Million project ($40-42 Million bonded) now or be ready to maintain, repair, and replace building parts over the next 25 years at the $29,000,000 anticipated cost previously identified. This is the choice confronting the Town and taxpayers in Tuesday’s referendum … newly renovated schools consciously planned to serve Bethel’s elementary school needs over the next 25-30 years OR buildings as they are today, fixed along the way at ever escalating material and labor costs, like an old car with a new coat of paint, perhaps new tires and a battery but still an old vehicle that will have to be replaced eventually.