GREENWICH, Conn. – A historic $404 million budget was approved in Greenwich by the Representative Town Meeting on Monday night, including an additional $12.2 million for the much-debated Greenwich High School auditorium project.
The 2012-2013 town budget was adopted by a vote of 183 in favor, 17 against and one abstention.
The additional funds for the $36,930,000 Music Instructional Space and Auditorium project, better known as MISA, was hotly debated for hours Monday night, including droves of students and parents prepared to speak out against a proposed measure to drop $12,215,000 in additional funding from the budget, citing incomplete information as to the extent of soil remediation at the school.
“Why is the RTM voting without even knowing what the cost of the combined project will be?” asked RTM District 11 member Despina Fassuliotis, who has spoken against the project frequently in the past. “Why can’t we wait until the next budget cycle? Why should the RTM cede its fiduciary responsibilities,” she continued, “by voting for a total project that is given no limits?”
However, Michael Wacek, also a District 11 RTM member, said the remediation costs have nothing to do with the MISA project and that he believed it is the town’s top priority.
On the opposition, Angela Highland, a District 7 RTM member, argued that the town will end up paying $50 million for the entire site – MISA and field cleanup. “We all know the costs could escalate from there,” she added.
Katie Weatherseed, a senior at Greenwich High School, became familiar with the auditorium and its inadequacies since her freshman year. “Every show I end up losing my voice and I thought it was a strange coincidence, but recently I realized the poor acoustics” in the auditorium “were forcing me to strain my voice,” she said.
Will Sadock, a senior at Greenwich High School, spoke on behalf of the student body. “I’m a student government president – I’ve seen apathy. This is different because this has substance,” he said before asking the students in the audience to stand in support.
Mary Radcliff, president of the Greenwich Symphony Orchestra, which performs regularly at the school, added, “I have seen Greenwich High School brass quintets practice in the hallways,” she said. “We are struggling daily to cope with serious instructional problems.”
Lucia Jansen, a District 7 RTM member, argued that a funding deferment of a large popular project is not unprecedented. She referenced previous deferment of funding for the town’s central fire station, until details were worked out. “Once they did, the RTM overwhelmingly approved the project. The school fields are far more consequential with children’s health involved,” Jansen said.
Though opponents of the project said the body’s job was not to cater to special interest groups, RTM District 4 member Jim Bonney said 8,869 students and their families did not count among such groups. “Our constituents trust us to represent them in the RTM and do things that they want us to do,” he said. “One of the things they obviously want us to do is build MISA. It’s the cost of doing business, you have cost, they come unexpectedly and we have got to pay for it.”
Though 65 residents were signed up to speak – the majority spoke against the measure to delete funding from the budget proposal – by 10 p.m., the Greenwich Board of Education suggested cutting off debate to proceed with voting. All voting required a two-thirds majority in order to pass, but the motion to repeal the $12.2 million in funding for MISA failed with 137 voting against, 65 in favor and two abstaining.