Democrats on the BET Voted to Start Old Greenwich School Construction, But Didn’t Have the Votes to Prevail


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To the Editor:

Republicans on the Board of Estimate and Taxation claim they support the public schools. But their votes last week to delay the Old Greenwich School renovation prove otherwise. This is the sixth year since the schools master facilities plan passed, and with this vote, they prevented construction from starting in 2024.

This time, it appears that Republicans on the BET are the only people who do not want the Old Greenwich School construction to begin.

  • The nine member bipartisan Old Greenwich School building committee (OGSBC) voted unanimously to approve the schematic and cost estimates for construction, to meet state reimbursement deadlines so construction could begin by next summer.
  • The bipartisan Board of Education approved the plans unanimously 

  • The community has beseeched the BET for months to let the project move forward

Yet when it came to action, the Republicans on the BET chose inaction. Rather than engage, they read prepared remarks that accused the bipartisan building committee, the Board of Education, and the PTAs of “political machinations.” This is not leadership. It hurts students, it ignores our community and it costs taxpayers money. 

Delay costs us more

Failing to apply for state reimbursement by the June 30 deadline jeopardizes $6 million in state funding to offset the estimated $40 million construction costs. The Republican BET vote to delay leaves open two options: either we wait until next year to apply, which the OGSBC estimates will add $3 million in inflationary costs to the project. Or we hope our state representatives can magically bump us up in the queue for reimbursement despite having missed the deadline to apply. 

Delay hurts our children

The problems at Old Greenwich School are serious: the building is not ADA-compliant, it experiences periodic sewage backups into classrooms, it lacks building-wide HVAC and sprinkler systems and security protection. The  2018 Greenwich Schools master plan identified the renovation of Old Greenwich School as a top priority. Yet, five years later, the Republican BET members say they need more time for study.

Delay ignores bipartisan support for the project

To meet the June 30 deadline, the Old Greenwich School Building Committee produced a schematic design for the renovation and obtained two cost estimates. The final estimated cost was $41.9 million. On June 21, 2023, the Board of Education voted 7-0 to approve the schematic design and budget proposed by the Building Committee and adopted a resolution requesting that the BET approve that funding for the Town’s FY 2024 budget.

Why are BET Republicans delaying?

The Republican majority on the BET insisted that the Old Greenwich School renovation had not been adequately vetted. They insist that the BOE should look into building a new school, which they propose to be 25% smaller.  Of course, this is the same tactic they used to  delay the Central Middle School project, a dynamic that impedes effective Town government and oversteps the BET’s authority.

The truth is that the BOE had looked into building a new school at the start of the project and the OGSBC researched the costs. What they found was this:

  1. The Old Greenwich community does not want a new school.  At numerous hearings, residents strongly favored keeping the existing school, which is beloved in Old Greenwich. At the BET’s April budget public hearing, dozens of Old Greenwich parents begged the BET to fund construction for 2024, and not a single Old Greenwich parent spoke in favor of a new school.

  2. A new school would cost taxpayers more. The OGSBC found that building a new school from scratch would cost $70 – $80 million, a cost at least $25 million more than the approved plans to renovate. To bring costs of a new school down, Republican BET members proposed making it at least 25% smaller. That would make it the smallest elementary school in Greenwich despite having the third highest enrollment. BET Republicans have also held up Central Middle School construction over demands that the school be downsized. 

It is not fiscally responsible to insist on building a new school that the community does not want and that costs at least $25 million more.

What does it say about our  commitment to our children and our community if the Republican members of our finance board will only fund our schools if we make them smaller?

  • They gutted funding for Julian Curtiss School 

  • They delayed funding for Central Middle School 

  • They had the chance to make the right decision last week for OGS, and they failed, hiding behind the usual excuses 

Their irresponsible “one school at a time” building policy has turned into a no-school at a time reality.  

BET Democrats believe it is time for smarter municipal capital planning processes that allow us to take care of our town’s most important assets–our children–while keeping our taxes low. Our voting record supports that.

Stephen Selbst
Greenwich, CT

Selbst is a Democratic member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation. He also serves on the Old Greenwich School Building Committee.