Westport schools eye list of priority projects in budget
WESTPORT — As budget season progresses, so does the education board’s efforts to incorporate millions of dollars in recommended school repairs into its capital forecast.
But for now, the district is looking to budget only about $833,000 for priority improvements next year.
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A report prepared by Antinozzi Associates outlines a 10-year, $96 million plan with the district’s current five-year plan highlighting approximately $65 million in improvements, which includes soft costs for engineering, project management and architectural design.
“The Antinozzi report for year one of the suggested improvements total $12.5 million,” Chief Financial Officer Elio Longo said at a Board of Education meeting Monday, adding projects would be prioritized by need.
As it stands, however, less than $1 million in projects is planned for the first year.
Projects were prioritized by safety of students and staff first, then educational environment, and lastly retention of the building envelope. Priority projects include a cooling tower replacement at Greens Farms Elementary School, and roof projects at Staples High School and Saugatuck Elementary School.
“The priority one items we believe are the must have, must do projects in fiscal year 2021,” Longo said.
Interim Superintendent David Abbey said the priority list was developed to address potential impacts in an already tough budget year.
“This needs to be handled differently and creatively as we go through the budget process,” he said. “Otherwise, frankly, the operating budget cannot absorb it.”
Board members discussed how the town could work together to address the items listed. They also floated the idea of presenting the budget in two ways — one operational and another for facilities — to show the effect of addressing facilities’ deficiencies.
“I support doing all these items. I do not support doing it at the expense of the rest of the budget,” BOE Chair Candice Savin said.
Sandy Srihari, co-president of Long Lots PTA, said she was concerned the Long Lots windows were not proposed to be replaced until 2023-2024 in the capital forecast. According to Srihari, some of the windows are over 60 years old.
“Most of the remaining windows were installed in 1979, so they’re a young age of 41,” she said, adding it was risky to push off the improvement at the town’s largest elementary school.
Director of Facilities Ted Hunyadi said he reviewed the Antinozzi report alongside his team to provide the board with its priority list.
“In our best judgment, we selected things in the first year as things we need to be addressing in a priority one manner,” he said. “It’s things the facilities department feels has to be done sooner rather than later because of systems aging out.”
Hunyadi noted prices provided by Antinozzi were high compared to bids the district has made for past projects.
“We feel that number can be significantly reduced,” he said, adding the report should be viewed as a planning document.
Any improvements that required invasive work on schools would be done during the summer, Hunyadi said.
In an effort to be fiscally proactive, the board favored planning projects for the second year after the budget is passed.
BOE member Elaine Whitney said the five-year capital forecast was an essential planning tool and evolving plan, and that the school board would be updated on any specific details before any project is started.
“Then we would ask for each individual project as an appropriation request,” Whitney said. “Our hope and expectation is that many of these numbers will come down at least in the early years.”
The education board will vote on the $833,905 outlined for facilities alongside the district budget at its Feb. 10 meeting.