Westport parents, officials: $96M schools repair plan lacks detail

Michael Losasso, architect with consultant Antinozzi Associates, gave a long awaited facilities report presentation at the Board of Education meeting on Monday. Taken Oct. 7, 2019 in Westport, Conn.

Michael Losasso, architect with consultant Antinozzi Associates, gave a long awaited facilities report presentation at the Board of Education meeting on Monday. Taken Oct. 7, 2019 in Westport, Conn.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — A long-awaited facilities report that outlined a 10-year, $96 million plan to repair the town’s schools left community members disappointed with the perceived surface-level information.

“We have several design professionals that primarily engage in school projects who all contributed their specific expertise to the generation of this report” said Michael Losasso, an architect with Antinozzi Associates at a Board of Education meeting on Monday.

Lossaso gave a presentation outlining the various repairs needed to be made at the seven school buildings, barring Coleytown Middle School. As part of the report, Losasso said his team interviewed each school’s principal and conducted a visual survey of each building.

“We did not do any disruptive investigations,” Losasso said. “This was exclusively exterior or outside surfaces.”

Losasso noted while there was nothing in imminent danger, his staff did establish a priority list. This included an emphasis on items that could create greater risk if in disrepair, such as school roofs. Improving electrical systems and new ventilation units were also listed in the report.

“In reality many of them can be deterred and many of them have already been addressed,” Losasso said.

BOE Chair Mark Mathias said the education board received the 869-page report earlier that afternoon and, at the time, did not have an opportunity to review it. He added the BOE needed to address issues surrounding school security before releasing the documents to the public.

A cost summary for each school estimated a total of $32.8 million would be needed for Staples High School. A little over $21 million was estimated for Bedford Middle School. Saugatuck Elementary School came in with the third highest total at $11.4 million.

Losasso said the report listed maintenance items that should be forecasted, not necessarily executed immediately.

“There’s nothing that’s in imminent failure of collapse,” he said. “I can assure you that.”

Despite this assurance, town officials and community members voiced frustration in the lack of a thorough investigation of the schools’ buildings. Several parents also expressed concern about limited detail about potential water incursions at the buildings.

Lauren Karpf, chair of the Representative Town Meeting’s Education Committee, said she was disappointed Long Lots Elementary School was not inspected for mold despite reports of water leaking.

“We have this big facilities study and we’ve been waiting and waiting for the results,” she said. “I thought that was part of what we were getting tonight.”

An air study for the school would also be beneficial for the town, she added.

“We’re heading down this same path with water leaking in multiple schools and we aren’t looking behind walls or ceilings,” Karpf said. “That’s my concern.”

Amy Kaplan, another RTM member, said she expected a more in-depth report as well about what was going on behind the walls in the buildings.

“Everyone thought Coley(town) middle was just fine up until they took apart the walls and saw what was going on there,” Kaplan said, noting some of the structural elements seen at Coleytown are present in other buildings.

“I’m not convinced that there isn’t a similar disastrous situation lurking in at least one these buildings,” she said. “I’m not feeling very reassured by the report that I’ve seen so far.”

Mathias said more conversations would be held with Antinozzi Associates and other town committees after the BOE further reviews the documents.

“We have town bodies where it’s their job to do this stuff and they know what they’re talking about,” he said. “We want to be forthright and transparent as possible with the community and funding bodies so we can take the appropriate actions as soon a possible.”