Missing Legal Step May Delay Rebuild of Central Middle School in Greenwich

A rendering of the proposed Central Middle School in Greenwich, CT


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GREENWICH – Republicans seeking a delay in the costly rebuild of Central Middle School may have found a solution – existing town law.

The CMS Building Committee planned to request an additional $42 million from the Board of Education at a Thursday meeting for the ongoing project. But the request was rescinded after a town attorney advised that, per the town charter, the school board cannot approve funding requests without approval from other town bodies.

Tony Turner, chair of the CMS Building Committee, said the new legal opinion could delay the project by at least three or four months. For each month the $112 million project is delayed, he claimed the costs would increase by $365,000.

“This has significant ramifications across projects, particularly with Central Middle School,” Turner said.

With various structural issues, no centralized HVAC system and high maintenance costs at the current CMS, the school board had unanimously approved plans for a new school in August 2022. But some town Republicans have opposed the plans, calling the proposed school too large and too costly.


The legal memo, which the town distributed to officials on Tuesday, was sparked by a request from Republican finance board member Leslie Tarkington to Republican First Selectman Fred Camillo, town attorney Barbara Schellenberg explained.

“We were asked to clarify, generally, what the [municipal improvement] process is,” Schellenberg said. “There was a feeling that perhaps there were a number of people who were involved in various building projects that did not necessarily have the information, or all of the information, about what the charter actually requires.”

Laura Kostin, a Democratic member of both the school board and CMS Building Committee, said she finds the timing of Tarkington’s inquiry “interesting” on a Friday phone call with CT Examiner. However, she said she wouldn’t speculate further on the finance board member’s intent. 

Tarkington did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.

According to the memo by attorney John Wetmore, Section 99 of the town charter states that municipal improvement projects – including the relocation of public buildings – must be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission or the Representative Town Meeting before funding can be set aside.

But some school board members questioned the town lawyer’s legal advice, calling the town law “ambiguous,” and suggested that past practice offered a different reading of the law.

Christina Downey, Democratic vice chair, said the town has approved funding for numerous projects prior to Planning and Zoning or RTM approval. According to a 2016 article, the finance board did approve a $37.2 million budget for New Lebanon three months before Planning and Zoning approved the project’s municipal improvement application. 

Citing the New Lebanon funding approval, Downey said the town law is up for interpretation, and requested a second opinion.

“This is an opinion of one lawyer,” said Christina Downey, Democratic vice chair. “As a board, I think we should be having a discussion about considering hiring a lawyer to give us our own opinion.”

Kathleen Stowe, a Democrat, said she agreed with Downey. She argued that it is incumbent on the school board to get another opinion because if their decisions have violated town law, the board could be held liable.

But Schellenberg cautioned against hiring outside counsel, and defended the merits of the new memo.

“Honestly, if you look at this language, there is no ambiguity here. To bring in outside counsel to me is frankly a waste of money,” Schellenberg said. “There’s no other interpretation that makes sense.”

Schellenberg added that according to the charter, only town attorneys can hire outside counsel. But Joe Kelly, Republican chair of the board, took issue with that.

According to Board of Education policies, the board may appoint their own attorney on a fulltime or retainer basis. Kelly said that if the members decide to seek a second opinion, they are well within their rights.

“To argue that we shouldn’t consider that or at least have a discussion, I don’t think that’s good business,” Kelly said. “I don’t know what we’re going to come up with as a board. But certainly hearing the reaction that we’re not going to be allowed to have a second opinion? That in itself – well, that annoys me.”

The board did not officially decide on Thursday whether they would seek a second opinion. 

In a Friday statement, First Selectman Camillo urged building committee officials to review Wetmore’s legal opinion and continue to move forward with their projects.

“School projects are very important to the community as a whole and we want this to be done efficiently, but also correctly,” Camillo said. “We must all continue to look forward and not delay progress by looking back.”