Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
School building panel struggles with rising costs

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
September 25, 2006

VERNON - Plans to renovate seven school buildings should go out to bid early next year as officials work to keep the planned work within a $68.3 million budget approved by voters in March 2005.

Meanwhile, asbestos abatement has been completed in advance of the major renovations in three school buildings.

John Leary, who heads the School Building Advisory Committee, went before the Town Council last week to talk about the status of the renovation projects.

Since the committee's formation in July 2005, Leary said, much of its time has been spent on reviewing the scope of the planned renovations and developing cost estimates.

Those estimates originally came in over $83 million, significantly more than the bond approved by voters.

Leary attributed the discrepancy to some inaccurate estimates made before the March 2005 referendum and increasing construction costs because of natural disasters, rising fuel prices, and a glut of construction projects nationwide.

As a result, committee members worked to bring the project back into budget by scaling back some minor interior renovations and site work.

Among the facets of the project that might be eliminated is a playing field at Rockville High School, Leary said.

But all seven buildings will still see improvements to bring them in compliance with updated building codes, Leary said.

Six of the schools will see their boilers replaced as proposed and plans for a new 900-seat auditorium at the high school will go forward.

The high school will see the most work as officials plan to renovate the school's media center, locker rooms, and cafeteria.

Windows will be replaced in several of the building's wings.

Additional work will include an improved principal and nurses' office at Maple Street School, renovated art and social work areas at Skinner Road School, and an addition to the administrative offices and media center at Lake Street School.

"It's been a lot of work and we are far from done, but we are well on our way," Leary said.

As school officials prepare for the lion's share of work to be started next year, students and staff at three local schools are already experiencing the start of renovations.

During the summer, workers removed asbestos floor tiling at Lake Street School, Skinner Road School, and Vernon Center Middle School.

As a result, the floors at those schools were stripped down to their cement base.

Leary said new tiles would be installed next summer.
Two schools - Center Road School and Maple Street School - are expected to see their asbestos floor tiling removed next summer as part of a $783,000 contract.

The handling of discarded asbestos tiles prompted concern during the summer when a Fairfield County resident who grew up in town stumbled upon unmarked containers holding the hazardous material at Lake Street School and Vernon Center Middle School.

The discovery prompted school officials to put a multifaceted inspection system in place to assure that materials were properly secured and labeled.

©Journal Inquirer 2006