Westport looks to hire firm for $100M school maintenance plan

Photo of Katrina Koerting
File photo of construction work at Coleytown Middle School.

File photo of construction work at Coleytown Middle School.

Jarret Liotta / For Hearst Connecticut Media / Jarret Liotta

WESTPORT — School officials are looking to hire a capital program manager to help oversee the $100 million maintenance plan over the next decade and provide more oversight to the district’s facilities.

The proposal calls for an outside firm to be used as needed for the projects and paid based on the work it completes, rather than on a retainer.

Officials maintained this was not a slight to the facilities department, which does a good job overseeing the district’s buildings, but more an issue of capacity given the staff’s existing workload.

“We’re looking to leverage what we have internally with external resources,” Superintendent Thomas Scarice said at a recent meeting, adding Fairfield and Norwalk have similar approaches.

While Scarice was hesitant to give an exact figure for what that would cost — because they plan to go out to bid for it — an estimate of $50,000 to $100,000 was floated during the board’s discussion.

Board members generally supported the idea, saying the cost is still less than adding someone to the staff once salary and benefits are factored in.

“We need it,” said board member Lee Goldstein. “To me, this seems like a no brainer to outsource this part of the work.”

Scarice said the facilities plan might have been the biggest issue facing the district prior to the COVID pandemic, especially since the board is also looking at creating a master plan as well.

He said the maintenance plan is incredibly complex due to all the sequencing, the state reimbursement process, managing and the pre-construction work needed for these projects.

“It’s a very high-stakes process the board has engaged in,” he said.

This firm could also help oversee the implementation of any capital improvement or modernization projects that arise as the district creates a master plan. These projects would go beyond maintaining the existing facilities, which is already in the works, and instead outfit the buildings or other capital needs to meet changes in instruction, culture or enrollment.

An additional firm could be brought on for the larger projects, such as the Coleytown Middle School one that just wrapped up. Officials would create a set of criteria to determine when an individual project manager would be needed, such as project scope or dollar amount.

Whichever firm is selected to be the capital program manager would not be allowed to create the master plan, Scarice said.

“We want to have that capital program manager to be purely acting in our interests and not be able to respond to the master plan,” Scarice said. “We want to have them asking questions and guiding us through that plan, not also bidding on it.”

The board expects to vote on sending out requests for proposals at its next meeting and select a firm this spring.

Scarice also proposed sending out a bid to get a firm to craft the master plan so they could have it before next year’s budget process starts. But board members said it might be too soon for that, and it should instead come after the educational strategic planning happens this summer.

School and town officials will start discussing the approach to facilities.

“These capital assets are incredibly valuable and incredibly important to the community,” Scarice said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com