Officials: State rule could affect Westport schools projects

Photo of Katrina Koerting
Saugatuck Elementary School

Saugatuck Elementary School

Paul Schott / Paul Schott

WESTPORT — Several projects are closer to reality, though some funding questions remain due to a state rule.

School officials are reviewing bids to repair the Saugatuck School roof with the school board expected to approve the project later this month. The district is also preparing to cover the entire cost because it might not be eligible for state grants due to a clerical error and a state rule.

While looking for state funding, Elio Longo, the district’s chief financial officer, discovered previous staff never closed out six or so projects from the late 1990s and early 2000s. The state requires 20 years to lapse from when a project is completed to when state money can again be given for that type of project. But since these projects were still be open on the state’s books, the clock never started again.

Two of these projects are the Saugatuck and Staples High School roofs.

Longo said it “was a surprise” to learn these projects were sill open and he’s working with the state to close them and address the issue.

“There’s a lot of work that remains to be done,” he said.

There’s a chance it might not be resolved by this summer when the Saugatuck roof needs to be replaced and so the district is preparing for the whole sum. The cost is based on the bids, which will soon come before the board.

Staples is not as urgent and so that project will be delayed a year to give officials more time to work with the state as well as give them time to do the project in general, Longo said.

“It’s a very tight timeline to get two roofs done this summer,” he said. “We’re confident the Staples roof is secure.”

Board member Elaine Whitney said the state issue only applies to specific projects, not the entire building.

“It just happened to be this section of the Saugatuck roof last time,” she said.

She said the district’s other projects aren’t affected by this technicality.

The school board approved $1.6 million for a number of asphalt paving projects at several schools. The supplemental appropriation request now goes to the town for approval.

“It’s estimated to be much, much lower than originally estimated,” Whitney said.

The town’s public works department also took on some of the preliminary work, saving the district another $200,000 or so.

Longo said the work will be done once school is out of session, timing it with the town paving projects.

“All of the proposed locations have approached, if not exceeded, their useful life of 20 to 25 years,” he said.

Board members applauded the collaboration between the town and schools for this work and suggested even more of a partnership as the schools look for a new approach to its capital projects and planning at large.

Superintendent Thomas Scarice suggested the board hire a firm that would be the district’s project manager for the bigger capital projects.

“We can get economies of scale and efficiencies because you start to bundle projects,” he said.

He also suggested the district create a master plan that this firm could then help implement.

It would build on planning work the district has already done, including the capital plan and annual enrollment studies.

Some board members were open to the idea, suggesting using these upcoming projects as a way to try out different firms, but wanted to see more information on potential costs.

“The devil’s in the details,” board member Lee Goldstein said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com