Miller-Driscoll Upgrades May Require Whole New Building

The upgrades which the Wilton Board of Ed is asking for would require a whole new building to be built.

It is still unclear where the Miller-Driscoll elementary school renovations will remain just that, or if the upgrades are so extensive that an entirely new building may need to be built.

Karen Birck , the Secretary of the , presented the project’s latest Statement of Requirements (SoR) to the (BoS) at Monday night’s BoS meeting.

The school board’s SoR asked for a number of extensive additions and upgrades which included, but was not limited to, additional toilet facilities, more classroom space, a new roof, new siding, a new PA system, a new septic tank, and improved electrical systems. Birck said that the “cumulative impact” of all these problems is primarily “driving this project forward.” 

However, the BoS expressed skepticism as whether or not these renovations were a list of what needed to be done versus a wish list of new features. Selectman Todd Hoffstatter said he wasn’t sure if the SoR was clear between “must haves and wants.” Hoffstatter said that a lot of rooms already had area for playing and storage facilities, and did not require another couple hundred of square feet, as well as additional bathrooms.

“This SOR to me clearly says ‘new school,’ and that question is still up in the air,” said Hoffsatter.

Birck stressed that the SoR does not offer suggestions on how these upgrades are to be accomplished. It would be up to other boards to determine if there were to be renovations or a new building.

Selectman Hal Clark and Hoffstatter expressed concern over the addition of several new toilets. The Board of Ed would like to see toilets be added to each kindergarten room, since kindergartners currently need to walk to another part of Miller School to use facilities.

Speaking from the audience, Cheryl Jensen-Gerner, the Principal of , said that the upgrades may not be absolutely necessary at the current time, but it would be wise to implement these changes now for the future. She used special education needs as an example, saying that special education rooms were not needed in the 60s when the school was built. She said the town should aim for the best possible results if and when it decides to upgrade the school.

“If you want to renovate, you have to ask what’s optimal. It’s not a wish list,” said Jensen-Gerner.

Birck said she would support whatever decision was ultimately made, so long as the “town wouldn’t put millions into it and [Wilton residents] still think it didn’t work.”

A main issue with building a new facility is cost. First Selectman William Brennan said that although previous , by the time the town actually went through with everything, it could be "north of $50 million.”

Macolm Whyte, Chair of the Council of Public Facilities (CoF), echoed Hoffstatter’s concern, and stated that as-is, the SoR would require an entirely new structure.

“This document can only be implemented with a new building,” said Whyte. “With all the [additions]…you will not end up with a building that fits on that site. There’s no way to add 200 feet to every classroom” without building a new facility, he said.

Whyte made clear that the CoF is merely guiding the school board in the process and would not offer opinion on how to implement the features.

“We are not going to get involved in a dispute between the Bof or BoS whether this is a renovated building or a new building,” said Whyte.

The selectmen decided that they would compile a list of questions for the Board of Ed about specific SoR concerns, to be answered in the future. 

Wilton2ParkAve April 03, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Tell me again why we need more classrooms when there is a projected decline in enrollment over the next decade? Will a new building increase test scores or improve the quality of education.
KPC April 03, 2012 at 01:04 PM
- A thought I have been meaning to send to the BOE.... Just sell the building and land where MD is located. Take that money (I assume a decent amount) and build a new, smaller K-5 school in North Wilton. This would make parents in NW happier (there children will not have to ride the bus for nearly an hour each way). Also, perform some minor renovations to Cider Mill and turn it into the K-5 school for South Wilton. The money earned from the sale of the MD land should offset a fair majority of these costs. ...... My unresearched and unsubstantiated opinion.
HW & TT Fan Club April 03, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Instead of Bonding out the $40-50 Million project, may I suggest that the Town's two greatest fundraisers ever hold a bake sale every other Tuesday and after their various PTA meetings (heck they may be running the New Canaan and Westport PTAs too !). Throw in a couple of carnivals and these gals could have this new building paid off in record time. Let's all support their efforts !!
Amo Probus April 03, 2012 at 02:01 PM
KPC April 03, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Wow, this site has no interest in a thoughtful conversations any more. Best of luck to you all. I am out.
Amo Probus April 03, 2012 at 02:19 PM
KPC...call it cynicism brought about by a government gone awry... to parphase Joseph Pulitzer: "A cynical, mercenary, demagogic government will in time produce a people as base as itself. "
Diane Kuczo April 03, 2012 at 02:59 PM
I am totally in favor of K-5 schools. When I asked a principal why we didn't have 2 K-5 schools, instead of the split we have now, I was told it was because they didn't want Kindergarteners riding with 5th graders. Really? But it's ok to have 6th graders ride with 12th graders???? Not sure if the proposal from KPC is feasible, but I like it!
jh April 03, 2012 at 02:59 PM
We need more bathrooms because the kinder-gardeners have to walk to another part of the building to use the bathrooms. Here's an idea, why not reorganize the building and put the kindergarten classrooms in the other part of the building by the bathrooms. But I already know why that idea won't work, the town will not be able to spend $40 million. Many of the items in the article look like stuff that would be nice to have as compared to what is really needed. It sure seems to me that the BOE is trying to come up with as large a list of items as possible so that it drives the cost of renovations so high that it looks cheaper to build a new building, which is probably what their real goal is.
Diane Kuczo April 03, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Funny thing is, they did just reorganize the school... and pulled a lot of K teachers out of their K classrooms. Some teachers moved from their classroom, to the room NEXT DOOR! Crazy. What did that cost taxpayers in janitorial overtime, and moving expenses???
Diane Kuczo April 03, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Something to note though, that school does need work - the roof is still leaking (why do we build flat roof buildings?) since my kids were there. Not a rainstorm goes by without several buckets throughout the hallways and in classrooms. It's not a good situation...
Lorna April 03, 2012 at 03:13 PM
I agree with jh that the space should/could be reallocated. Why not put storage in the massive hallways if needed? Yes to roof repairs and electrical updates that should be done. But no to a new school to the tune of $40-50MM, not to mention the costs, both emotional and financial, of putting students and faculty in portable classrooms. Taxpayers already are shelling out beaucoup bucks.
HW & TT Fan Club April 03, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Just reading at the bottom of my screen that "Wilton High School Takes 3rd Place at Conneticut Science Olympiad" - AWESOME !!! Let's build a new Science Building too - so we can win that next year !!... And Wilton took 1st place in the Glorious & Fabulous High School PTA competition !! Way to go girls !! As Elle Woods says - This IS super news !
Wiltonite April 03, 2012 at 04:00 PM
This is an excellent idea and definately worthy of consideration. The Miller Driscoll building is beyond it's useful life. It's roof has leaked for years despite many attempts to patch and repair it. There is undoubtably mold growning in the ceiling/walls that would be very costly & time consuming to remove properly. I think a new building will prove to be more cost effective and the more viable option in the long run. (remember the high school heating system that was overlooked for so long?) Even if additional classroom space is not needed due to the decline in enrollment, by combining the K-5 grades into 2 schools, you may find staffing synergies (libary, guidence, nursing & psychology). The presence of foreigh language teachers in the building for grades 4-5 may even allow us to bring foreign language back to the 3rd grade! My children are getting near the end of their Wilton Public school years and I definately think the tax increases have been too high over the past 10 years, but I feel this would be necessary and worthy investment in the town's future. BOE - please consider....
Wilton Patch Fan April 03, 2012 at 04:55 PM
KPC - This is not The New York Post or even a rag like the not fit for fish wrapping NY Times. This is The Patch - bringing you local community news, issues and events and allowing you and your neighbor's comments. Join the conversation or quietly read on your laptop, but don't go away. Read - Learn - Listen to the thoughts of your and my Town. We are an interesting little village. Friends of mine living elsewhere, can't believe half the things that happen in our community actually happened. I love my Wilton and my Patch !
Eustace Tilley April 03, 2012 at 09:04 PM
The purchase of "off-the-shelf" plans has the added advantage of simplifying design requirement specifications and enables the school to focus on education instead of bricks and mortar. Here is a link to an example: Http://www.vefp.org/conferenceExhibits/FlatRockESAward.pdf. The Flat Rock school is designed for 900 students (our enrollment), is brand new, asbestos-free and meets green standards. Cost per square foot is under $200 (the national average and also the cost of a new school in nearby Massachusetts) and the total project cost is $20 million; one half the projected cost to renovate Miller-Driscoll. Regional construction costs and architectural styles/preferences differ but a new school at one half the cost of renovation is certainly an opportunity we should not ignore. A "due diligence" review would be timely and necessary. It is remarkable that Mr. Brennan ups the price to $50 million without any reference to actual costs...is he letting bidders know what he wants to spend? Great negotiating skills there...?!
JH April 04, 2012 at 03:57 AM
JH The SOR should be called "SOW" Statement of Wishes. The Driscoll-Miller complex has been reconfigured many many times with each generation thinking they have the best ideas and the current one is just much more demanding. The Senior Center & Community Center SOR was carefully prepared and then shot down by the BOS because it cost too much. The same needs to be done here! If we do build a new school complex, let's build it on the VISTA property that was purchased just for that purpose -- to build a new school. Then -- we can turn the Miller - Driscoll complex into a Community, Senior Center and Senior housing. Let's turn the SOW into an affordable SOR. Remember -- a SOW is a PIG!
Rob Sanders April 05, 2012 at 01:14 AM
All of this discussion ignores the fact that considerable time, talent, and yes, taxpayer's money has already been expended to answer many of the items glanced over in the original post. The Miller-Driscoll task force has spent five years, through two administrations, studying the problems the complex presents:How to accomodate the special ed/pre-school program (Which has grown despite the declining overall enrollment projections), address the inadequacies and obsolensence of the building's 40+ year-old design, and the numerous code and structural deficiences of the buildings. These things are not improving by the town's "limp along" attitude. Equally distressing is the replacement cost figure quoted as "north of $50 million". The task force hired architects, and had Turner prepare cost projections for alternatives ranging from bare-bones "make the roofs stop leaking", various renovation schemes, to several full replacement alternatives (Including sites elsewhere). The most expensive schemes were projected in the mid $20 million range, but never even approached $40 million as quoted. The M-D complex design is fundamentally difficult to modernize, expand, simplify, or improve. Two dissimilar buildings joined by bastardized additions do not bode well for "fixing". The town energy commission has found them to be the energy hogs (SOWs?) of our educational facilities, a product of their original construction and sprawling, wasteful square footage. End of rant, Part 1
Rob Sanders April 05, 2012 at 01:14 AM
The M-D complex design is fundamentally difficult to modernize, expand, simplify, or improve. Two dissimilar buildings joined by bastardized additions do not bode well for "fixing". The town energy commission has found them to be the energy hogs (SOWs?) of our educational facilities, a product of their original construction and sprawling, wasteful square footage. I studied the special ed facilities for the town at the request of the BoS, and served on the Task Force under Troy Ellen Dickson as CPF chair and representative. I am convinced that repairing these functionally obsolete buildings is absurd. Let's build a green, healthy, uplifting, and well-organized facility for our children which inspires their learning and accomodates their particular needs.
Eustace Tilley April 05, 2012 at 10:18 AM
Thanks Rob. I have to say I was unaware of the MD Task Force and its welcomed efforts to study options. I was also unaware town funds were spent (so much for Mr. Brennan's 'budget transparency!') I am less surprised the most expensive option is in the mid 20 million range. How many square feet are in that estimate? So Brennan authorizes expenses for the MD Task Force but does not have the facts. Instead he runs around town fretting about 50 million? Guess he was too busy hiding his $600,000 road paving slush fund to pay attention. I don't get it.
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Connecticut15 April 17, 2012 at 01:12 PM
When the Statement of Requirements leads to a statement that we need bigger classrooms, then I think we need to start over in assessing the options. Why? Because it makes no sense that we need 'bigger classrooms.' We have seen that the districts needs have generally fallen prey to fads and gimmicks. Our experiences and observations were that bathrooms in K classrooms were hardly used for students, just for teachers and storage. K students generally were afraid to go into an isolated bathroom. Why were the K classes moved? Couldn't the preschool program go to Comstock where a former preschool was located or has that been taken over by a private enterprise, Nursing and Home Health Care. what do they pay in rent? Based upon how many other things are handled in this district, asking for a wish list is dangerous and irresponsible. Money spent is not accountable. Transparency is rarely provided. Who exactly was on this committee over the years, who chose them, and what are/were their backgrounds?


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