$290K cold cash: Financiers OK money for Coleytown air conditioning
The only Westport elementary school that lacks air conditioning in the gymnasium and auditorium — a long-standing complaint by Coleytown students and parents — is a step closer to gaining that amenity after the Board of Finance unanimously approved $290,000 for the project Wednesday.
The capital expenditure for Coleytown Elementary School, pushed back at least a decade, is expected to win final approval by the Representative Town Meeting the first week in February, and then be put out to bid. If all goes according to plan, the system could be installed as early as spring recess, said Elio Longo Jr., director of school business operations. As part of the project, the CES cafeteria will also be air conditioned.
Michael Rea, the Board of Finance vice chairman, voiced frustration that the school board had taken so long to address the problem. “This needed to be taken care of when my kids were young 20 some years ago; this has been neglected for years and years and years,” he said. “If the timeline didn’t allow, I think Coley would have fallen by the wayside.”
Parents of CES students have long been frustrated their children have had to put up with overheated facilities during the warmer months. Those sentiments escalated greatly last spring and at the start of this school year.
Christine Kurpiel, CES Parent-Teacher Association co-president, said she was inundated with emails about students coming home sweating profusely as they waited in the hot gymnasium at dismissal. “It is a parity issue as all the other schools have this. Last spring and this August was the breaking point — it was just sweltering,” Kurpiel said. “I had a number of parents asking me about why it was so hot and that was the impetus for this.”
Board of Finance member Clarissa Moore asked Michael Gordon, the chairman of the Board of Education, why the air-conditioning was not installed 10 years ago. Gordon said school officials felt there were greater priorities in the school district. “Priority for capital projects has gone to security since Newtown,” Gordon said.
Sheri Gordon, a Board of Finance member, expressed bewilderment as to why the Board of Education didn’t use the funds from the budget’s carry-over account for the project. “I was completely surprised that the Board of Education wouldn’t use this carry-over account to make this a slam dunk. I was surprised the Board of Education wouldn’t listen to the public and try to get this done as soon as possible,” she said.
In an interview, Michael Gordon explained the account has a balance of around $220,000, a surplus from the last fiscal year, and is primarily used to fast track smaller maintenance items.