'We need to identify the musts': Weston selectmen consider trimming school capital requests

Photo of Katrina Koerting
An exterior of Weston High School in Weston, Conn. shot Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012.

An exterior of Weston High School in Weston, Conn. shot Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012.

Autumn Driscoll / Autumn Driscoll

WESTON — The selectmen’s first pass at the school’s $55.6 million budget raised few concerns, with members instead focusing on the possibility of regionalization and trimming the capital requests.

The school board approved more than $1 million in capital items along with the budget last month, noting it would be revised based on ongoing discussions with the town.

First Selectman Chris Spaulding said the town is already looking at big capital costs that needed to be coordinated with the schools request.

Spaulding pointed out he expects a large town capital budget.

This is mostly due to outfitting all of the police officers with body cameras under the new police accountability bill, purchasing fire trucks and the sidewalk and paving grants the town applied for that require local money.

Spaulding said it’s important to identify which of the projects had to be done next year and which ones could be delayed.

“Maybe we can get creative and do them all, but we need to identify the musts,” he said.

Several of the school items were already modified as of Tuesday’s joint meeting with the selectmen and school board. This includes removing the gym floor and bonding it later since it would most likely cost about $500,000, not the $125,000 originally budgeted.

Replacing the old gym air handler, lights and windows is also now expected to cost about $100,000, not $350,000. The lights were already upgraded and don’t need to be included, officials said.

Selectwoman Samantha Nestor suggested they apply for grants to help cover the costs, especially since there is money available under COVID funding for airflow projects.

The town will also look to see if public works has an extra pickup truck the schools could use and take that item off the list for next year.

Replacing the cafeteria floor at Hurlbutt Elementary School, fixing a window in a nurse’s office, installing a concrete pad over an oil tank, sound dampening music rooms and getting a generator to help pump gas at the garage during an emergency like last summer’s storm all remained on the list.

Spaulding also questioned regionalizing or partnering with other districts as ways to save costs, such as buying textbooks, transportation and increasing course options by having the classes virtually with another school.

Superintendent Bill McKersie said the district was already working with other districts with a ride-share program for students with special needs and are examining other possible partnerships.

Lisa Wolak, Weston High School’s principal, said there are some challenges to sharing virtual courses, that while “not insurmountable” needed to be considered, such as coordinating schedules between different schools.

“We should definitely keep the door open and the possibility of how to do this better because virtual learning is here now,” she said.

School officials said they were conscious of the financial situation when passing this budget, which includes several risks. They cautioned they might have to change their budget or come to the town for more money next year if they see more special education costs or higher enrollment.

“It’s a balancing act every year,” chairman Anthony Pesco said.

The selectmen will revisit the budget with school officials on Feb. 25, but will largely focus on the capital projects and more definite numbers on health insurance and how much money the town will be getting from the state.