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Letter: Move Forward on Greenwich High Project

GREENWICH, Conn. – TheDailyGreenwich.com accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to letters@thedailygreenwich.com .

To the Editor,

There are five powerful reasons for moving forward with MISA, the GHS Music Instructional Space and Auditorium project at the high school, specifically:

The support for MISA is large and widespread, going beyond the traditional school community.

It is time to fix the undersized and substandard facilities that have hampered the high school since its initial construction. The current facilities do not meet the educational needs of our students and are smaller than recommended by state standards.

RTM approval is needed for Greenwich to be eligible for the maximum amount of state reimbursement. The governor’s budget proposed for Fiscal Year 2012-13 included a reduction in the state reimbursement rate for Greenwich from 20 percent to 15 percent. Even though such reduction did not make it into the last proposed legislation, reducing the reimbursement rate for new construction is still being considered as part of the effort to reduce state debt.

RTM approval does not initiate spending. The BET has conditioned their approval so any spending will require approval by the BET. Additionally, if project bids exceed the funded amounts (of $33,815,000 total project cost before state reimbursement, which could be as high as $4.9 million, and $1.2 million in private donor contributions), the project would need to return to the RTM for approval before contracts are signed.

The proposed town budget results in a 2.75 percent mill rate increase, which includes MISA, cash reserves of $7 million to plan for the GHS Fields remediation and an additional $2.1 million cash for potential additional MISA environmental costs.

Here are the facts underlying each of these issues:

MISA should be judged on the basis of fulfilling a well-documented, educational and community need. Efforts at imposing false economy on MISA will only repeat the historical errors of the 1969 high school construction, when budget cuts fatally compromised the specs: specifically, the auditorium was not sized to the population served and was stripped of functionality; the music rooms were scaled to serve a high school with about half our enrollment. Instruction is currently hampered by overcrowded classrooms and by students practicing in hallways, offices and converted facilities. Music enrollment has outpaced high school enrollment by eight times. During the 1998 GHS renovation, HVAC adjustments worsened the background noise problems. Per state reports, the average high school auditorium accommodates 76 percent of the student population versus 31 percent for Greenwich High School. It is time to get the classrooms and the auditorium built right.

MISA is not a “money pit,” as some have called it. There is a system of checks and balances for this project. The Building Committee has identified and estimated environmental costs related to its construction. These estimates are based on good information on the type and amount of contamination. Going out to bid will allow the true costs of the project to be better understood. The bids we receive will be most competitive if the funding is not phased. Once firm bids are received, the Building Committee is required to review the total project cost with the BET prior to the release of any construction funds. If the project costs exceed the appropriation, the Building Committee would need to seek an interim appropriation from the BOE, BET and RTM.

The BOE understands there is concern over the source of funds to address all planned capital projects as well as the contamination under the GHS Fields. The process to complete testing of the GHS Fields and develop an approved solution, with the timeline and costs, could take up to a year to develop. However, the consultants for this project indicate that more information will be known about the timing and costs in the fall. This schedule will coincide with the MISA Building Committee’s return to the BET with bid information, which will provide more context for the financial decisions.

Taxpayers should understand that the proposed budget by the BET has a mill rate increase of 2.75% for next year and it includes the MISA project plus $7 million cash to start to build a reserve to address the environmental issues at the high school and an additional $2.1 million cash for potential additional MISA environmental costs.

Further delays will add costs to MISA. If the RTM defers this project another year, there will be a further cost escalation of 2.5 percent (or $860,000) at minimum. Delays in the start of the project will increase costs. However, it is important to keep in mind that the process of getting bids will provide a much better understanding of the project costs; right now, we are all only dealing with estimates. The good news is that the bidding environment remains very competitive.

We look forward to taking this project to the next step after four years of careful planning and vetting of the MISA project.

The Greenwich Board of Education

Steven Anderson

Jennifer Dayton

Nancy Kail

Leslie Moriarty

Barbara O’Neill

Adriana Ospina

Peter Sherr

Peter von Braun

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