Naugatuck High School Renovate-As-New Proposal – 8/23/2011

Posted by Bob on August 23, 2011 under Daily Blogs, Naugatuck High School Renovation | Read the First Comment

On Thursday evening, members of Tri-Boards (Board of Education, Board of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses) will hear a presentation regarding the proposed Renovate-as-New project at Naugatuck High School.  For the past several months, local officials and educators have been reviewing options, costs and educational specifications associated with a complete renovation of the Borough’s flagship school.

Naugatuck High School (photo from Naugatuck Patch.com article)

Naugatuck High School (photo from previous Naugatuck Patch.com article)

Built in 1959, Naugatuck High School has housed generations of Naugatuck students.  Since the addition of 1974, the original footprint of the campus has remained relatively the same.  Many years of constant use, age and failure to make appropriate investments to maintain the infrastructure over time have taken its toll on the building. This past Winter placed renewed emphasis on a 2007 Kaestle Boos Associates, Inc. (“Kaestle Boos”) study which described deficiencies in the core infrastructure at the high school. The study referenced numerous settlement cracks, masonry and joint deficiencies and support issues that were in need of address.

In addition to the items referenced in the Kaestle Boos analysis, several other areas of the high school will need to be repaired in the coming years.  Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) and other code compliance improvements are needed throughout the building, including but not limited to classrooms, corridors, locker rooms and the auditorium. Many windows and frames need to be replaced with the corresponding paint removal. A drainage mess on the athletic and marching band fields and spectators walking on the same pool deck with swimmers have been problems for many years.

Several months ago, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses appointed a Long Term School Facility Planning Committee (“LTSFPC”, a membership list can be viewed here).  The purpose of the committee (see the Mission Statement here) is to analyse existing buildings and recommend the implementation of a district-wide facilities plan by 2025.  As the LTSFPC began its work, it was becoming increasingly apparent that significant investment would be needed at Naugatuck High School over the next couple years simply to maintain the asset and ensure a safe environment for students and faculty.  Members investigated the possibility of a new high school for the distant future, but the cost and the lack of suitable and/or affordable locations were major obstacles.  It was unanimously voted at the May 17, 2011, meeting to eliminate the recommendation of building a new high school from the Committee’s future proposals.

Simultaneously, staff members of the LTSFPC began to investigate the “renovate-as-new” concept as a potential alternative for Naugatuck High School.  The Watertown School District recently completed renovation projects at several schools, including its high school.  Several individuals associated with the LTSFPC and the Naugatuck School District toured Watertown High School on two (2) separate occasions.

Renovations of existing school facilities are discussed in Connecticut General Statutes Sections 10-282 et seq.  Rather than construct new buildings, the renovation process in Connecticut allows a school district to completely refurbish an existing educational facility provided the newly-renovated school will have a comparable life expectancy to a newly-constructed campus.  School districts receive reimbursement rates of various percentages on school bonds from the State of Connecticut depending on a series of economic indicators.  Up until recently, the Borough of Naugatuck’s reimbursement rates for both new construction and renovation was SEVENTY FOUR (74%) PERCENT for eligible costs.  Recently, however, Governor Dannel P. Malloy proposed and ultimately obtained legislative approval to reduce state reimbursement rates for new construction, while maintaining the percentages for school renovation projects.  The intent behind this legislation was to encourage communities to rehabilitate existing assets rather than construct new school facilities.  Essentially, Naugatuck’s reimbursement rate for construction has beed reduced to a percentage in the fifty’s (50′s), while reimbursement for renovate-as-new projects remains at SEVENTY FOUR (74%) PERCENT.

This factor, combined with several others, made the renovate-as-new concept attractive to the LTSFPC.  There will be significant costs associated with making all the individual repairs needed at the high school, some of which may not be eligible at such a high reimbursement rate.  The Borough’s bond rating was recently upgraded by Standard and Poor’s, and has relatively low bonded-indebtedness compared with other municipalities.  In addition, the construction market is at one of its lowest points in recent memory.  Given the state’s financial concerns and continued discussions regarding the potential for future reductions in aid to municipalities, it is likely that Naugatuck’s current reimbursement rate of SEVENTY FOUR (74%) PERCENT for renovations will never be higher.  Despite the current economic climate, all of these conditions indicate that the renovate-as-new project at the high school is in the best, long-term, financial interest of Borough taxpayers, parents and students.  The cost-benefits and value added of completing a comprehensive renovation that will restore our flagship school for a generation far outweigh tackling badly-needed repairs in a piecemeal manner.

The LTSFPC continues to analyze multiple options for the long-term vision of the K-8 grade configurations and facilities for the Naugatuck School District.  Multiple concepts continue to be reviewed from a cost, educational and quality of life perspective, including the potential for re-purposing existing assets that would no longer serve as traditional schools.  Members realize that preparing for the future of our school district for years to come is not an easy or quick process.  While examination and debate regarding the long-term composition of our entire district will continue for many months and involve opportunities for the public to participate, the Naugatuck High School Renovate-as-New project is ready to be presented to the Borough’s decision-makers and our citizens.

As the LTSFPC has been investigating this concept, the Five (5) Year Capital Committee chaired by Burgess Bob Neth allocated previously incurred by unspent school bond dollars (fixed-term bonds on school projects that were completed under-budget) to engage Kaestle Boos for the preparation of the Naugatuck High School Renovate-As-New feasibility study.  Finance and educational staff have met over several months to review all the logistics and specifications associated with the process.  At the June meeting of the LTSFPC, it was unanimously recommended that the project be referred to the Five (5) Year Capital Committee for review.  A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, August 24, 2011, at 5:30 PM, to review the final documents and make a decision whether or not to recommend the project to the appropriate boards.

While no formal statutory or charter authority is given to the Tri-Boards, Thursday’s (8/25/2011, 6:00 PM, Naugatuck High School) meeting will be the first, formal opportunity for most of the members of the respective boards to hear the renovation project proposal in its entirety.  The schematic drawings and plans for Naugatuck High School can be viewed here and are currently on the borough’s website (www.naugatuck-ct.gov).  The meeting is open to the public, and a tour of Naugatuck High School will proceed the presentation.

The following documents provide detailed financial estimates regarding the project:

Cover Letter;

Pre-Design Estimate Summary;

Pre-Design Major Renovations;

Pre-Design Minor Renovations;

Pre-Design New Construction;

Pre Design Site Estimate; and

Pre-Design Board of Education Location.

There are still issues to further research regarding maximizing the eligible reimbursements for various items.  The state uses a reimbursement formula based on square footage and population projections that present certain challenges given the size of the Naugatuck High School buildings.  The proposal to relocate the Board of Education offices and meeting space to the high school are intended to take advantage of the highest reimbursement rates possible.  Local officials will continue to research the particulars and dynamics of this process with Kaestle Boos and state decision-makers.

Any action to proceed with a project of this scope must follow a specific process outlined by state statute.  The Board of Mayor and Burgesses must ultimately approve a bond referendum question, determine a date for referendum and appoint a formal building committee.  The Naugatuck Board of Education must approve the educational specifications.  While the Borough’s Charter is relatively silent on a specific process, it has always been custom to hold at least one (1) public hearing in advance of a referendum of such significant magnitude. While officials are hoping to prepare the project for a referendum on the statewide, municipal election day of Tuesday, November 8, 2011 (Naugatuck is one of a handful of municipalities that still holds municipal elections in May, and therefore does not currently have an election scheduled for November 8, 2011), there are several steps remaining before such a vote can be scheduled.  If approved by voters, it is anticipated that it would take approximately three (3) years from the start of construction to complete the entire renovation project.  During the phased construction process, Naugatuck High School would continue to operate as a functioning high school.

We look forward to all questions and comments that residents have regarding the Naugatuck High School Renovate-as-New Project and the process associated with it.  Additional information will continue to be made available to provide detailed information and answer various questions.  Please feel free to contact me at bob@bobmezzo.com or call the office at 203-720-7009, to discuss the project in greater detail.

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