Tem­po­rary school to cost $1.8 mil­lion

Mold prob­lem prompts move to leased space

Greenwich Time - - NEWS - By An­gela Carella acarella@stam­ford ad­vo­cate.com; 203-964-2296.

It’s rare to have three elected boards at one meet­ing, and even more odd that they unan­i­mously ap­prove the same item, but it hap­pened Wed­nes­day night in Stam­ford. There’s an emer­gency. The mold task force needed the boards to quickly ap­prove a lease for space in a South End of­fice build­ing so Westover el­e­men­tary stu­dents can re­turn to school on Tues­day. The Westover build­ing on Stillwater Av­enue was closed Oct. 31 be­cause it is in­fested with mold.

Mayor David Martin formed the task force, which eval­u­ated more than a dozen sites be­fore choos­ing a build­ing on Elm­croft Road owned by de­vel­oper Build­ing and Land Tech­nol­ogy. Martin and his staff worked with BLT Wed­nes­day to draw up a lease, and that evening brought it to the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion for ap­proval.

From there, Martin and his staff took the lease to leg­isla­tive cham­bers, where the Board of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives was hav­ing its reg­u­lar monthly meet­ing. Mem­bers of the Plan­ning Board and Board of Fi­nance, who also must ap­prove city leases, joined them. The rest of the room was packed with par­ents.

Mem­bers of all the boards seemed to want to know the same thing — how much is the rent?

The an­swer is $1.36 mil­lion, plus $187,000 for util­i­ties, to lease 108,800 square feet from now un­til the end of June.

The lease in­cludes an op­tion to rent an­other 24,200 square feet, which will be avail­able Dec. 1, for an ad­di­tional $321,000, in­clud­ing util­i­ties, through June.

Di­rec­tor of Ad­min­is­tra­tion Mike Han­dler, who helps head the task force, said he ex­pects that all the space will be needed, so the cost will amount to $1.87 mil­lion to house Westover stu­dents in the build­ing through the end of the school year.

The agree­ment in­cludes other op­tions to lease the space for sum­mer school, and for the 2019-20 school year, if needed. It’s pos­si­ble other schools af­fected by mold will need the rooms once the Westover build­ing is re­opened, Han­dler said.

Board mem­bers asked about the cost of re­fit­ting the of­fice build­ing, once home to Pit­ney Bowes, for Westover stu­dents. The es­ti­mate is $1 mil­lion, Han­dler said. If more is needed, the boards must au­tho­rize it.

It’s a good deal in a cri­sis sit­u­a­tion, he said.

“BLT is do­ing it at cost, so we’re pay­ing what it costs them, and they are work­ing around the clock to get it ready,” Han­dler told board mem­bers. “We are build­ing a school out of raw of­fice space in less than a week. I think it is a gen­er­ous of­fer from the de­vel­oper.”

BLT — de­vel­oper of Har­bor Point on the South End, one of the largest projects in the na­tion — is among the city’s big­gest prop­erty own­ers. Ac­cord­ing to the lease, the com­pany is charg­ing the city $20 per square foot.

The price is “quite com­pet­i­tive,” said fi­nance board Chair­man Richard Freed­man, a real es­tate de­vel­oper.

“The city cut a very fair deal, es­pe­cially for a build­ing like this,” Freed­man said.

The large build­ing near Kosciusko Park is empty ex­cept for about 100 BLT em­ploy­ees. For the first cou­ple of weeks — un­til a bus pull-up area and sep­a­rate en­trance are cre­ated — stu­dents will have to walk through the lobby with BLT em­ploy­ees. School se­cu­rity guards and po­lice will en­sure their safety through the lobby, said As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Tamu Lucero, a task force mem­ber, and class­rooms will be seg­re­gated.

They haven’t done any­thing yet about a play­ground.

“We want the (Westover) prin­ci­pal and staff to help us de­cide once they are there,” Lucero said.

BLT’s crew now is re­fit­ting the bath­rooms for el­e­men­tary school­ers, Han­dler said. But not ev­ery­thing will be ready by Tues­day, in­clud­ing a gym­na­sium.

Un­til there is a cafe­te­ria, the school dis­trict’s food ser­vice ven­dor, Chartwells, will pre­pare lunch else­where and bring it to the Elm­croft build­ing.

Buses and books

There are other lo­gis­tics — al­most 270 Westover stu­dents who walked to the Stillwater Av­enue build­ing will have to be trans­ported to Elm­croft Road.

“We have to add five or six buses,” Han­dler said. “Po­lice will help di­rect traf­fic.”

There is enough money to cover the costs of the tem­po­rary Westover school, though it hasn’t been de­cided yet whether it will come out of the city or schools bud­get.

But the price tag for re­mov­ing mold from all 25 school dis­trict build­ings is un­known.

“What’s the plan to pay for this?” Board of Fi­nance mem­ber Mary Lou Ri­naldi asked.

“We don’t have a full plan,” the mayor said. “We are look­ing to see where we can save money, but the mag­ni­tude of this is large and un­prece­dented.”

The 20-year-old Westover build­ing was closed af­ter in­spec­tions found mold in the sheet rock of in­te­rior walls, in the in­su­la­tion, and in the glue be­hind the wall­pa­per. Mois­ture en­tered where win­dow caulk­ing has sep­a­rated from the brick ex­te­rior, along faulty gut­ters, and from bro­ken win­dows, con­den­sa­tion on pipes, and poor drainage around the build­ing.

The cost of re­plac­ing sup­plies is an­other un­known. Han­dler said, for ex­am­ple, that some books from Westover tested pos­i­tive for mold spores. If they can­not be cleaned, the school dis­trict may have to buy $500,000 worth of new ones.

Af­ter each board voted to ap­prove the lease, Martin took out a pen and signed it.

In other busi­ness, the Board of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives ap­proved, unan­i­mously and with­out dis­cus­sion, the ap­point­ment of Mark McGrath as the city’s new di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Oper­a­tions. McGrath, a re­tired Air Force com­man­der who will over­see many of the de­part­ments in­volved in mold re­me­di­a­tion, said he ex­pects to start the job Mon­day.

Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

The Sil­i­con Har­bor build­ing, where stu­dents dis­placed from Westover Mag­net El­e­men­tary School in Stam­ford be­cause of mold will at­tend classes.

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