Embattled firm studying borough schools

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NAUGATUCK — Four months after the borough hired the Hartford-based firm JCJ Architecture to perform a facilities utilization study of the school district, the company is preparing to make suggestions about how the district can best meet the needs of its 11 public schools over the next decade.

JCJ representatives met last month with school administrators and teachers and plan to hold a public forum Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. at the Hop Brook Intermediate School library to hear from parents, students and community members. Questions the firm seeks to answer include:

  • What are the existing educational needs in Naugatuck?
  • What is the role of technology in the schools?
  • What kinds of classrooms and learning spaces are needed in the schools?
  • What are the existing conditions in current school facilities?
  • How are the schools being used?

JCJ will conduct building reviews and expects to submit a report to the Board of Education by the end of the calendar year.

A year ago, the board, citing overcrowding in some schools, formed a facility planning committee to examine the possibility of rearranging school buildings. It considered housing kindergarten to sixth or even eighth grade in the same buildings, replacing the current breakdown of six K-4 schools, two 5-6 schools, two 7-8 schools and one high school.

The last time Naugatuck Public Schools shuffled buildings was 2002, when it changed Cross Street and Hop Brook from elementary to intermediate schools.

The committee decided in July to not reconfigure schools for the current school year but hired JCJ to help it weigh the possibility of future reconfiguration.

Overcrowding has been a district concern for several years. In 2006, a school space needs committee recommended the borough build a new high school and turn the current Naugatuck High School into a middle school that would house every student in grades 6-8. At present, the borough has no plan to build a new school.

More recently, Prospect Street School has been forced to use modular classrooms and to send some of its kindergarten students to Maple Hill Elementary School because it does not have enough space.

JCJ Architecture has served as a consultant to many school systems in Connecticut, including Region 16, New Haven, Norwalk, Litchfield and Waterbury. Lately, it has taken heat from the Waterbury Board of Education for a 2006 feasability study it performed on the Duggan School. The Waterbury board paid JCJ $50,000 to evaluate the school’s structure and help decide whether to renovate or rebuild it.

Waterbury elected to renovate and budgeted $34.7 million to do so, hiring JCJ as lead architect. Now, the project is $6.5 million over budget and a year behind schedule. Over the summer, the board hired attorney Steven Mednick to investigate the overrun, and in a 69-page report presented earlier this month, Mednick wrote, “It is quite evident that many items included in the $6.5 million increase were foreseen, foreseeable and clearly within the cognizance of the contract parties.”

Board of Education Charwoman Kathleen Donovan said the body chose JCJ to perform the study because at $36,000, it was the lowest bidder. She said she does not know anything about Waterbury’s displeasure with the firm.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Tindall-Gibson said he is aware of the situation in the city, but it does not concern him.

“They’re a big firm,” he reasoned. “Any time you’re a big firm that deals with many clients, you’re going to have problems from time to time.”