NHS plan clears final land use board

This artistic rendering shows the plans to renovate Naugatuck High School. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — The plans to renovate Naugatuck High School have cleared another hurdle.

The Zoning Commission approved the planned renovations to the school last week.

In addition to the Zoning Commission, the renovations have also received approvals from the inland wetlands and planning commissions.

The approval from the Zoning Commission did not come without questions.

The biggest concern that the commission had was the rubber crumb that would be used under the proposed artificial turf playing field.

Chair Joseph Savarese expressed concerns about the potential health risks that the rubber posed.

“There’s been no conclusive evidence one way or the other whether this material is hazardous. You can read reports all day long that say it’s great and everybody is using it. Everybody’s using it because it’s cheap,” Savarese said. “However, there is always some doubt.”

He pointed to the incident in 2010 where parents came out against a wireless data tower that had been proposed to be placed on top of Maple Hill Elementary School.

“Though there was no conclusive evidence there was harm, people were concerned about their children,” Savarese said. “There may be some people … who have some concerns about exposure to rubber crumb.”

Savarese told representatives from Kaestle Boos Associates, the architectural firm developing the plans, that, although no parents had come to voice concerns about the use of rubber crumb on the fields, he felt it would be prudent if the company bid out alternative materials as well.

The commission also had concerns about a few of the other items in Kaestle Boos’ plans.

Commissioner Sally Brouillet was concerned about the lighting near the entrance of the high school. She felt that, since there was a sidewalk there, there should be streetlights along the entrance, which provide more safety for the children walking home from school after dark.

James Sperry, a landscape architect with Kaestle Boos, explained the planned lights in the parking lot would shine down the entrance and illuminate the way for people using the sidewalk.

There is also a streetlight directly across the entrance of the school, he pointed out.

The commission felt this was not enough light and asked that two additional lights be placed along the sidewalk.

The commission was also concerned about the moving of soils and whether there would be removal or addition of any earth materials.

Vice Chair Diana Raczkowski pointed out that the company had not indicated if any of these materials were going on and off site and, if they were, how they would be stored.

Sperry explained that the amount of material that would be moved on and off site could not be known at this point, since the quality of the soil is unknown. However, he said that the materials would only be put in stock piles as the company had indicated when submitting its original application.

The commission approved the plan with eight conditions. These conditions include making the superintendent of streets responsible for cleaning the proposed drainage system, no processing of earth materials on site, installing two light towers on the sidewalk at the entrance, making sure that all trees planted during this renovation are no less than 10 to 12 feet tall, and placing plantings along the chain link fence in the front of the school to screen it from view.

The commission also made two recommendations for Kaestle Boos to follow when moving forward with the planned renovations.

The first was that the Police Commission shall consider placing one hour parking limits along Rubber Avenue in the vicinity of the high school to address the congestion that student parking in the area presents.

The commission also strongly recommended Kaestle Boos consider an alternate in-fill material to crumb rubber for the synthetic turf field.

With approvals from all three of the borough’s land use boards, the next step for Kaestle Boos Associates is to make the plans meet the conditions that the commissions attached to their approvals, Sperry said.

Once the plans are in compliance with those conditions, the plans will go before the borough Board of Education and state Department of Education. The plans have to go before the state before the beginning of October. The state department will either accept the plans or request changes to the plan, which will have to be made before the plans can be resubmitted.

“Once the plans are accepted we are released to go out to bid,” Sperry said.

Construction is scheduled to begin in March with the reconfiguration of the athletic fields and the gym and pool area, which will continue until the fall. Construction will then move on to classrooms and new administrative offices that will be finished by summer 2014.

The auditorium and more classrooms and offices will be renovated by fall 2014 and the final phase, including the media center and school board offices, should end in summer 2015.

After the athletic facilities, the Goodyear wing of the building will be renovated, followed by the Castle, adult education and Judd wings, in that order.

The project is expected to bring air conditioning to the entire school, as well as a backup generator that would allow the borough to use the school as a shelter during extreme weather and other emergencies.

The Republican American contributed to this article.