To the Editor:
Excluding the outsized nature of a school designed for over 900 students when enrollment is under 500, the proposal by the Central Middle School Building Committee (CMSBC) is poorly executed.
The current CMSBC design will cost over $900 per sq. ft. for a total of $112 million. This is the most expensive middle school design ever in Connecticut before we even break ground. This design is excessive and wasteful based on expert opinions, data on comparable projects and common sense.
1. Independent experts (Lehrer-Cummings) hired by CMSBC to review the design found that the design is inefficient. These experts said that this design’s main benefit is maximizing rooftop solar. Their report included an entire section devoted to the huge layout and the CMSBC voted NOT to consider that section.
These experts also suggested a 10% reduction to non-education spaces like mechanical rooms. Those suggestions alone could save $8 million. The CMSBC ignored these suggestions.
2. Many other towns spent much less. Westport had identical issues with their 1950s Middle School which was also temporarily “condemned.” Westport’s 2019 estimate for building a new school was $560 per sq. ft. Instead, Westport decided to renovate for $256 / sq. ft. Post renovation it looks like this.
Nearby, Oxford and Cromwell are building new middle schools for same student population as Greenwich. Cromwell’s 2023 estimate came in at $747 per sq. ft. to Greenwich’s over $900 per sq. ft.
The experts said that much of the difference has to do with the building design. But asides from not questioning the design or looking at alternatives the CMSBC included many items not in the Ed Specs like two-story hallways, solar, a courtyard and other areas not in the Ed Specs.
3. Common Sense. Despite having fewer classrooms, the new design is so spread out that it takes up 35% more land than the current CMS. It just makes sense that there is waste in the new design.
It does NOT make sense that Greenwich’s building which is 37% larger than Cromwell would cost 25% MORE per sq. ft. Common sense would say that a bigger building should achieve some economies of scale.
It also does NOT make sense that CMSBC managed to find only $1 million in cuts to a $112 million building. Common sense would tell you that anyone looking to cut costs on a $112 million dollar project who finds only 1%, didn’t look very hard. Cromwell’s cost cutting resulted in over 12% in savings.
4. Lack of diligence by CMSBC. The CMSBC produced no alternative building designs, and no estimates of alternative layouts or site plans, as has been common in the past. When this was proposed at CMSBC, the committee Chair made unsupported claims that this is unnecessary, and as a result costs have ballooned to FOUR TIMES what our neighbors paid for the same issues.
This is clearly a case of a poorly managed project. We can choose to listen to partisan and false reasons about this being an emergency which can’t be delayed or about how delays will cost a million or two, though we could save $30 or $40 million. But these excuses for poor management and excessive spending are politically motivated.
If we listen to this false reasoning, we will be throwing our money out the window, and the result will be either: 1. Taxes go up; Or 2. We borrow and foist repayment on future generations, though we inherited a community with no long term debt.
Rich Greenwich Democrats who run the DTC say, “you can afford it,” promising to pass costs we didn’t face on to our children while ignoring the 34% of the Town’s households who live in rentals or on fixed income who can’t afford it.
Republicans say, “Can we do better?” and the answer is a resounding “Yes! We can do MUCH better.”
The correct choice for CMS is: 3. Better management taking the time needed and a second look will save us far more than any delays will cost; there is no urgency, and the money we save can be used to fund other repairs without higher taxes or borrowing from future generations.
Spilo is the RTM Representative to the Central Middle School Building Committee. He also serves as Chairman of the RTM Public Works Committee and the RTM Labor Contracts Committee. The opinions presented are his own.