North Mianus Elementary School is near and dear to everyone’s heart. We and our families attended North Mianus, and our Chairman rushed over the day of the incident. We are grateful that school was not in session and that no one was hurt.
We know that our town’s system of government was never meant to be fast moving, but we do always seem to get these matters done right. Let’s explain the facts and process surrounding the request from the Board of Education. Currently, the BET has two separate tasks before it. The first is to provide funds to the BOE to replace the funds that they used for the emergency clean up, relocating the students, providing transportation, and other expenses relating to the ceiling collapse. We need to do this before June 30, 2021, which is the end of the fiscal year.
The second task the BET faces is to appropriate additional funds to allow the BOE to define their scope of work for not only repairing the building but to bring the rest of the building up to current building code (this week they discovered additional items to be included in the project: water lines.) The scope of the project will actually be determined by the town’s building department, which bases its requirements not only on the BOE engineering plans, but on the town / state code requirements. The BOE determined that to get through this task and the first task would require, with contingencies, approximately $2.1 million. The amount was promptly approved by the BET Budget Committee April 7.
Further larger amounts deserve more thought. The BOE asked for $8.1 million of which $6.1 million is based on a “back of the envelope” estimate of a per-square foot cost. However, they admit that they are 4 to 6 weeks away from having an approved engineered scope with specific cost estimates. These costs could be more or less than $8.1 million – we simply don’t know yet.
The Democratic BET members wanted to approve the $8.1 million with a condition – that is, the monies
would not be released until the BOE returned with an approved plan with the costs to execute that plan. The key here is that the BOE would still have to return to the BET to release the funds, which would be in 4-6 weeks. This condition-and-release process would circumvent the RTM, which, in essence, would have “pre-approved” the money, without knowing what would be done. That would also deny the citizens and the North Mianus community a voice in seeking any changes that might be beneficial to the school.
The Republican members would prefer to approve the funds once we know the true cost of the project. After all, we don’t know whether the project will cost more than $8.1 million – if it does, the BOE will still need to go through the BET and RTM approval process. Additionally, the BET and the RTM will need to approve the related borrowing. Shouldn’t we know the costs before we approve this substantial debt?
Unfortunately, we are also backing up against the RTM’s consideration of the town’s budget for the next fiscal year. Typically, the RTM considers only the budget in May, although they have considered additional items if the facts warrant it. The Moderator of the RTM will determine which items will be considered, depending on how quickly the BOE can get the project specifications and budget prepared for approval.
So, while individuals within the BET claim that the BET actions delayed the project, you will see that is simply not true. These actions funded the immediate needs and allowed the repair project to proceed right away. We’re sure the BOE will work feverishly to move this project along through the process. The Schools Director of Facilities indicates that it would be a stretch to reopen the school by December. The BET actions have done nothing to delay that goal, despite false information to the contrary. Finally, with respect to North Mianus, other questions have arisen, including why the BOE does not accelerate the renovation of the entire building now, versus waiting approximately six years from now. While there are cost differences and operational questions, it might be the right time for the BOE to address this question in a deliberate manner, separate from the immediate response to the accident.
Concern has been publicly voiced by some in the BOE and within the PTA that if the North Mianus repairs become a renovation then the Julian Curtiss renovation might be delayed. That question has not been directly asked to the BET. Without knowing all the actual scope and cost estimates it is difficult to speculate, but our capital spending is based on the capacity to do the work, financing and land use and approvals. Without knowing the timelines it is a challenge to answer that but we welcome the dialogue. However, we will state with certainty that all the capital projects for the BOE have gotten done and the list of future projects is ready for discussion. It’s simply a list of questions about logistics (how many kids would be displaced if all or multiple schools were being worked on at once?), financing and timing.
This is not the first time nor will it probably be the last time BOE educational specifications were debated within the BET or RTM. It has happened with the New Lebanon School, Hamilton Ave. School, Glenville School, and the High School Auditorium projects. The BET’s support of our schools is never in question. Many school projects have been completed over the past decade and the annual capital maintenance funding has increased up from $2 million per year to this next year’s almost $30 million. Everyone wants to continue Greenwich as the premiere community to live, work, operate a business and raise a family.
Bill Drake, Andy Duus, Karen Fassuliotis, Debra Hess, Michael Mason and Leslie Tarkington are the Republican members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation.