RTM OKs $32 million Coleytown renovation
WESTPORT — Though the Representative Town Meeting ultimately approved a near $32 million plan to restore Coleytown Middle School, one member abstained in hopes of sending a message.
Matthew Mandell, RTM member for District 1, said while he fully supported the plan he would abstain to make a point to the Board of Education and the town. According to Mandell, the BOE is represented by Shipman & Goodwin, a law firm which also represents developers with 8-30g applications in Westport.
Mandell said there is a conflict of interest since the firm represents both the BOE and a developer currently suing the town under the state’s affordable housing statute. He also alleged an attorney for the firm called the town “racist” in a news publication.
The comment was possibly in reference to a CTmirror article published on May 22, which addressed affordable housing in Westport and included comments from Shipman attorney Tim Hollister.
“This must end,” Mandell said. “I urge the town and the board of education to work together to resolve this once and for all.”
While other RTM members commended Mandell, he was the only abstention. The vote passed 32-0-1, approving $31,972,234 with bond and note authorization to restore Coleytown to a sixth- through eighth-grade facility.
CMS Building Committee Chairman Don O’Day again presented the near $32 million remediation plan during the meeting. Construction costs and full remediation of the school is estimated to cost $30.7 million with additional items by the education board at $1.3 million.
The amount, which has been called the largest appropriation the town has witnessed in the past 15 years, includes a 15 percent contingency of $4.5 million.
“If we don’t need the money, we won’t spend the money,” O’Day said of the contigency.
The town has also been working with Hartford to seek potential reimbursements. Board of Finance Chairman Brian Stern said at a BOF meeting on July 8 this could be anywhere between $2 million and $5 million, less than the usual 20 percent due to exemptions.
The town would go out to bond for the appropriation request for 20 years at an interest rate of 2.6 percent, with a $41 million payout over this term, according to Finance Director Gary Conrad.
With the BOE’s recent statement that the school will reopen as a 6-8 school, O’Day said there is no longer uncertainty regarding the building’s future.
“We’re all good. No more issues, no more wondering what we are going to do. It’s a middle school,” he said.
First Selectman Jim Marpe sung praise for the building committee and said the town owed them a great debt.
“This is an opportunity to resolve this and continue to make Westport have the world class school system it has always been known for,” Marpe said.
Westport resident Robert Harrington said the vote could start a new chapter for Coleytown and the town.
“This uncertainty has plagued our school system since September and it can come to an end tonight,” he said.
With a coherent plan now established, Harrington said members of the RTM should be proud of the result.
“The Band-Aid on CMS is finally coming off,” Harrington said.