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Greenwich Auditorium Project Costs Come Under Fire

GREENWICH, Conn. – Several residents spoke out against additional funding for the Greenwich High School auditorium project, citing the unforeseen costs of soil cleanup at the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s public hearing Tuesday night.

“Aren’t you sorry you didn’t listen to me?” said Karen Fassuliotis, a former member of the town’s Representative Town Meeting and the chief voice against the project last year. “Proponents of the project argue the project should go forward because the problem is a town problem, not a project problem. Isn’t that one in the same? The cost to the taxpayer is the same. … We can’t reduce the cleanup costs, but we can reduce the project costs by looking at alternate project designs.”

Last year, Greenwich approved $17 million of the estimated $28 million needed for the Music Instructional Space and Auditorium project, better known as MISA. When workers began excavating parking lots for the project in July, they discovered soil contaminated with PCBs. Testing has been ongoing and will continue through this summer.

Angela Highland, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 7, urged the board to adjust or eliminate money to continue the MISA project until the full scope of soil cleanup is determined. “The scope and cost of MISA should be re-evaluated. … I consider it reckless to go ahead as originally envisioned,” she said.

On Monday night, the board approved $200,000 to cover additional soil and water testing costs for April and June. In addition, the board approved $250,000 to redesign aspects of the project. The cost, originally estimated at $28 million, may reach $37 million. The town has thus far budgeted about $3.75 million for testing and cleanup in its proposal.

Laura Erickson, co-president of the Greenwich High School Parent Teacher Association, asked the board to move the project forward with the understanding that the expense for construction in addition to soil cleanup places a strain on the overall budget.

The town has already committed to funding the demolition and construction of a central fire station for $2.659 million; the MISA project for $12.515 million; and renovations to Nathaniel Witherell, the town’s nursing home, for $20.205 million.

Lucia Jansen, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 7, also suggested postponing the second funding round of MISA, as well as other expensive projects, until next year.

“Given the BET’s own clear policy directive, it should be decided to keep firm on the debt limit and eliminate or reduce funding for new concept or business plans that are millions of dollars and will not likely be implemented within a year or two,” said Jansen, referring to planned renovations at the Holly Hill Transfer Station and the Byram Pool.

The Board of Estimate and Taxation adopted a debt cap last year, limiting the town’s total debt to no more than $210 million. To remain within this limit, this year’s list of projects cannot exceed $47.5 million.

Of the recommended general fund budget of $367.7 million, a total of $49.2 million would go to building projects in the town’s capital plan. More than $60 million in requests were originally submitted.

Under the proposed budget, Greenwich Emergency Medical Services would receive $250,000 to build a new home base facility, and the site plan design of the Byram Park Pool would be partially funded at $150,000. In addition, $10.8 million has been set aside for the first phase of improvements at Holly Hill.

The board will vote on the town’s budget at 7 p.m. Thursday at Greenwich Town Hall. The budget will then be sent to the Representative Town Meeting for deliberation and a final vote.

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