Op­tions for Co­ley­town, but still no an­swers

The Norwalk Hour - - TOWN NEWS - By So­phie Vaughan svaughan @hearst­medi­act.com; 203-842-2638; @So­phieCVaughan1

WEST­PORT — Three months af­ter con­cerns about per­va­sive mold closed Co­ley­town Mid­dle School, op­tions for re­me­di­a­tion or a com­plete re­build of the school have emerged, and so have each plan’s es­ti­mated cost.

The Board of Ed­u­ca­tion hired Mount Kisco based KG+D Ar­chi­tects to in­ves­ti­gate what it would take to re­me­di­ate the build­ing and on Mon­day, the firm pre­sented three op­tions to the board. The first op­tion — to re­move and re­place all of the school’s ex­te­rior walls and ren­o­vate the school’s in­te­rior and roof — would cost an es­ti­mated $25 mil­lion, based on in­dus­try stan­dards, KG+D pre­dicts.

The sec­ond op­tion is to re­move and re­place both Co­ley­town ex­te­rior and the HVAC sys­tem, and com­plete ren­o­va­tions sim­i­lar to those in­cluded in op­tion one. This would cost an es­ti­mated $35 mil­lion, KG+D said. The third, nearly $70 mil­lion, op­tion is to de­mol­ish the ex­ist­ing school and con­struct a new one.

“We have much more in­for­ma­tion than we did be­fore,” BOE Chair­man Mark Mathias said, adding the board does not yet know when it will de­cide on one of the three op­tions.

The BOE has al­ready re­quested up­ward of $800,000 for work re­lated to Co­ley­town this year, all of which the Board of Fi­nance has ap­proved, BOF Chair­man Brian Stern said. Next Wed­nes­day, the BOF will vote on whether to ap­pro­pri­ate an ad­di­tional $284,558 for mold re­me­di­a­tion, re­con­struc­tion, and pro­fes­sional ser­vices at Co­ley­town.

“As a town, we clearly pri­or­i­tize good ed­u­ca­tion for our kids. It’s an im­por­tant part of our brand and our com­mu­nity and we will con­tinue to do that. We’ll have a lit­tle fi­nan­cial crunch, but we’ll fig­ure it out,” Stern said, not­ing the $800,000 came out of the town’s gen­eral fund.

Top on the agenda is to de­cide where Co­ley­town stu­dents will at­tend school in the fall of 2019, Mathias said. For the rest of this school year, Co­ley­town sixth-graders have been re­lo­cated to Bed­ford Mid­dle School while the sev­enth- and eighth-grade stu­dents are housed at Sta­ples High School.

The board plans to choose a lo­ca­tion by mid-December, to give the ad­min­is­tra­tion time to cre­ate a bud­get for the 2019-20 school year. The bud­get is ex­pected to be pre­sented to the BOE by the first week of Jan­uary, Mathias said.

In the sce­nario that Co­ley­town will re­main closed for the up­com­ing school year, the ad­min­is­tra­tion will plan to house the dis­placed stu­dents in the seven other West­port schools or in a rented space, Su­per­in­ten­dent Colleen Palmer wrote in a let­ter to dis­trict par­ents Nov. 1. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is cur­rently search­ing for a real es­tate agent to as­sist with find­ing a prop­erty the dis­trict could rent, Palmer wrote.

A com­mit­tee, with one rep­re­sen­ta­tive from sev­eral stake­holder groups, in­clud­ing the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Town Meet­ing and Board of Fi­nance, will con­vene soon to study and pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions for the fu­ture of Co­ley­town and West­port school fa­cil­i­ties, Mathias said.

“We have to keep the mem­ber­ship small for ex­pe­di­ency right now, but we’ll make sure it’s open to pub­lic comment and col­lab­o­ra­tion,” Mathias said.

In the mean­time, the BOE has put out a re­quest for pro­pos­als for the ad­di­tion of six mod­u­lar class­rooms at Bed­ford Mid­dle School to ease the crowd­ing caused by the ad­di­tion of Co­ley­town sev­enth- and eighth-graders, Palmer wrote. Ad­di­tional lock­ers and a re­vised sched­uled have also been put in place at Bed­ford to bet­ter ac­com­mo­date the Co­ley­town stu­dents at Bed­ford, she added.

The mod­u­lars will likely be in­stalled mid-Jan­uary, Mathias said. The Board of Ed­u­ca­tion will next meet on Nov. 19.

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