Committee weighing high school renovation options

Naugatuck High School

NAUGATUCK — The Long Term School Facility Planning Committee is planning a $30,000 study to determine how much it would cost the town to renovate the high school as new.

“To renovate as new is a major undertaking. It’s a lot of money, but it’s something we seriously need,” Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson said at a recent Board of Education meeting.

Mezzo said the borough would pay for the cost of the study with a bond that came in early.

At the last committee meeting, representatives from Kaestle Boos Associates gave the committee estimated proposals comparing the cost of new construction with code compliance projects with renovate-to-new projects.

New construction would be a completely new building built on a different site, while a code compliance project would make any repairs or required improvements to bring the high school up to the current code. With a renovate-to-new project, the town would commit to use the school for at least another 25 years.

The preliminary feasibility study gives a few examples of improvement projects and compares the cost of state reimbursement for renovate-as-new to regular repairs.

A rough estimate put the cost for constructing a new school at $115.8 million, not including purchasing new land. With state reimbursements, Naugatuck would pay $51.5 million of that cost. By comparison, Naugatuck could pay around $20.7 million for a renovate-as-new project, based estimates for a recent project at Watertown High School, according to the Kaestle Boos study.

The committee decided building a brand new high school was cost-prohibitive, so it is currently considering either code-compliance or renovate-to-new projects, according to Committee Chair Warren “Pete” Hess.

With many major repairs needed to bring the school up to code, it may be more cost effective to renovate the whole building, rather than doing repairs piece by piece, according to Mayor Robert Mezzo, who sits on the committee as a non-voting member.

If the town decides to renovate as new, it could get a 74 percent reimbursement from the state, whereas the town would get very little reimbursement for repairs Mezzo said. Mezzo said the state is looking at reducing the reimbursement rate for new construction to encourage districts to renovate existing facilities.

For example, providing a sprinkler system to the entire building would cost $3.6 million, but the state would reimburse $2.66 million if the repair was part of a renovate-to-new project, according to the Kaestle Boos study.

“While we’re trying to plan the long-term future, we have some immediate needs there, which require repair,” Mezzo said.

Reports from 2007 show some issues that should be addressed at the high school, but haven’t because of financial constraints, Mezzo said.

Some of those issues were brought to light this winter when heavy snowfall drew concerns over cracks in the high school walls.

According to the 2007 report from Kaestle Boos, some concrete columns need to be insulated, which will require replacing windows. Where the original building connects to newer wings, and covered joints need to be created between floor slabs. Cracks in the brick of the exterior auditorium walls must be further investigated.

Mezzo said repairs at the high school could easily cost between $5 million and $10 million.

“When you start a project, you have to bring it back up to code. Sometimes you take out a window you find something is there that invokes another repair that’s needed,” Mezzo said.

The study will look at facilities not only from an educational standpoint, but from a practical use standpoint, Mezzo said. The study would look at classrooms, labs, art facilities, athletic fields, and access issues and analyze the costs associated with various options, he added.

Naugatuck school officials recently toured the newly renovated Watertown High School. Mezzo said it looks nothing like it used to before renovations.

“The auditorium itself looks like a Broadway caliber auditorium,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said Naugatuck didn’t do any major school upgrades throughout the 1990s, but now it’s time to think about how the town wants to invest in its educational system moving forward.

“You never want to do things in difficult times, but essentially, we’re going to have to be making these repairs anyway, and you look at what you’re getting for the repairs versus renovate to new. It seems as if it’s something we’d want to consider,” Mezzo said.

While the committee contemplates which way to go with the high school, it is also looking into repurposing other school buildings and changing the grade configuration for the school system.

The committee will decide between two plans–a K-6, 7-8, 9-12 or a K-4, 5-8, 9-12. The current configuration is K-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-12.

Under either proposed plan, there would be less school sites, with three or four buildings eventually taken off-line, Hess said.

There would either be a new middle school for grades 5-8 or renovations to other elementary schools so they could expand from K-4 to K-6.

The committee is also looking at having an alternative school and pre-kindergarten programs.

“We’re hoping that within the next two to three meetings, we’ll have a complete plan that we’ll then present to the public for a public hearing,” Hess said.

The Long Term School Facility Planning Committee meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall.