GREENWICH – Republicans on the Board of Estimate and Taxation secured funding for immediate fixes for school accessibility and sewage leaks following pleas from parents and students, an approach that Democrats labeled “patchwork” and playing politics.
More than 100 town officials, parents and students testified prior to the Tuesday budget vote – without compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, disabled students are unable to reach their third-floor classrooms; when it rains, sewage leaks into classrooms; lacking HVAC systems mean that windows remain open in the winter.
Nisha Arora, a Republican and the board’s clerk, urged her fellow members to listen to the community and support two “immediate fixes” for Old Greenwich School: $1,003,000 for ADA compliance and $500,000 for sewer maintenance.
“I believe politicians often talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk,” Arora said. “I urge all of my colleagues here today to vote for this motion to send a strong signal that this board is united when it comes to our values of inclusion and well-being of our students.”
Arora said that the $1 million in ADA funding would accelerate future Board of Education requests – a budget of $875,000 for 2026 and $128,000 for 2028 – for an elevator, ramps, and renovated bathrooms at Old Greenwich School.
But Democratic members called Republican motives into question, saying the school needed to completely comply with ADA standards – not just elevators and ramps.
“If you’re gonna fix ADA, you need to fix ADA,” said Democratic member David Weisbrod. “You don’t just do a little patchwork for political purposes.”
Democratic members instead pushed for “holistic” funding, suggesting that the financial board should include $34.9 million in the 2023-2024 town budget for a total renovation of Old Greenwich School.
In 2018, the Board of Education’s facilities master plan identified a need for a substantial renovation of Old Greenwich School at an estimated cost of $38.6 million. Those renovations would include complete ADA compliance, enhanced security, building-wide HVAC systems, additional classroom space and would address sewage issues.
Democratic member Stephen Selbst, and a member of the Old Greenwich School Building Committee, said his committee would be ready to apply for state funding by the June 30 deadline. He asked the board to back the renovation request.
“There’s a solution to all of these problems, which is to fully fund the construction,” Selbst said. “And I want to make a little bit of a case for this, knowing that it will not necessarily fall on welcoming ears.”
Selbst said the committee had hired an architect and was working on the renovated building design for Old Greenwich School.
“There’s no disagreement on this board that the problems in Old Greenwich are real, that the testimony that was evoked last week was heartfelt, that the members of this board need and understand that we must respond to our constituents and – more importantly – on a human level, we simply must clean up the school,” Selbst said. “What I’m offering to you is a way to allow the Old Greenwich School project to proceed.”
Democratic member Jeffrey Ramer said the town, in the long run, with Selbst’s amendment would save half a million dollars on sewer maintenance and $1 million by rejecting Republican plans for “pretend ADA compliance.”
But Arora said that the requested renovation was too costly and the “bare minimum.”
“The idea that we’re okay doing a bare minimum renovation for $35 million plus because we want to meet the June 30 deadline, but we’re upset about doing a piecemeal for $1.5 million which will address all of the big concerns – it’s just wrong,” Arora said.
Republican member Karen Fassuliotis said that without updated cost estimates, the board could not know if $34.9 million was the final renovation cost. She suggested the building committee come back to the board with “solid numbers.”
“The process that we’ve laid out… I just think that’s a sensible approach at this point in time,” Fassuliotis said, referring to the recommended $1,503,000 for ADA compliance and sewer maintenance.
The vote on the $34.9 million amendment split, with the six Democratic members in favor and the six Republican members opposed, but Republican Chair Dan Ozizmir broke the tie and rejected the appropriation.
Immediate funding for Old Greenwich School ADA compliance, the Republican plan, passed with nine members in favor and three Democrats opposed. Sewage maintenance passed with seven in favor, five Democrats opposed.
“The community’s gonna remember this vote,” Selbst warned in response to the votes.
The Republican majority also won the day on other school funding.
In the case of Central Middle School – which the town planned to rebuild due to structural issues – members voted along party lines to reduce the budget by $7.7 million to $67.5 million in total, with Republicans citing a drop in enrollment and excessive square footage in the plans.
In the case of Riverside School – which required ADA compliance, roof replacement work and upgrades to HVAC systems according to the 2018 plan – Republicans rejected a Democratic motion to budget $150,000 for a renovation feasibility study, questioning the board of education’s capacity to manage numerous studies and projects all at once. But the motion by Ozizmir to add $818,000 to the budget for ADA compliance – including an elevator – at the school passed with eight in favor, two Democrats opposed and two Democrats abstaining.