Hawley School Boilers Cost Forces Moratorium on Capital Projects

The Board of Finance wants to know if the Board of Education wants to keep the school open before trying to figure out how to pay for the project.


Moving forward with HVAC improvements at Hawley School would break the bank for Newtown’s capital improvement project, according to the Board of Finance.

Instead, the board approved a moratorium on approval of capital improvement projects (CIP) until it hears whether the Board of Education wants to keep Hawley School open.

The moratorium doesn’t include repairs to bridges or the possible construction of a new firehouse, which First Selectman Patricia Llodra classified as vital for public safety.

"We have 15 bridges that don’t meet safety standards. That’s a significant public safety issue," she said.

The Board of Finance met for almost one and a half hours with the Public Buildings and Site Commission Thursday to go over the proposed Hawley School improvements.

The commission proposes to divide the project into three phases, which would be done in three consecutive summer breaks to minimize disruption of education at the school.

Some of the work, such as removal of old asbestos insulation, could not by law be done while the school is open for classes.

Commission members Robert Mitchell and Tom Catalina said a decision must be made because the aging boilers at the school could break down at any time and they could not be repaired.

"One of those boilers was installed a year before I was born. I’m 63," said Catalina to emphasize the precarious boiler situation.

Complicating the project is the need for renovations costing about $5.4 million, after state education construction reimbursement, to bring the oldest section of the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Replacing the boilers and HVAC ventilation systems would cost another $7.25 million after state reimbursements.

That would bring the total cost of the project to over $12.6 million. But when they went over the CIP budget, it was clear that at least $6 million more than what the town can afford.

Another issue was whether the state’s financial problems would force cuts in the education construction reimbursements, thus adding significantly to the project cost for Hawley School. The ADA compliance reimbursement alone amounts to $1.4 million, and the boiler reimbursements total almost that much again.

Also, the school district projects continued declining pupil enrollment in coming years might necessitate closing another school.

After meeting with the Board of Finance, Mitchell and Catalina said if it were up to them, they would close Hawley School and renovate it for the Recreation Department. But they did not make that recommendation to the Board of Finance because that is not their job, they said.

Once the building is closed, however, it must be made ADA compliant before it could be used for any purpose.

Douglas Brennan July 30, 2012 at 12:11 PM
It is really a shame that we create false numbers and then try to make significant financial and operating decisions based on those false numbers and false project alternatives. Money on a project is saved during the feasibility phase not in scheduling construction or in figuring out state reimbursements. Weak design ideas coupled with a lack of creativity are controlling the outcomes here. Superior execution cannot fix poor feasibility and poor design criteria. When looking at the cost to create a convertible at Chrysler Lee Iacocco was told that it would cost millions and millions of dollars. He grabbed the torch, cut the roof off the car and told the "managers" why don't we just cut the roof off and save all that money!!! And the convertible was selling in a few weeks. Newtown taxpayers do not be fooled by the nonsense you are being fed with this project!!
Alex Tytler July 30, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Did anybody here read 1984? This is it, its all PC BS that costs 10's of millions and accomplishes next to nothing. Close this school if the stupid rules make it better to do that, and keep the new school (Reed) that we haven't even paid off yet. Duh. Government is just so stupid and inept.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com July 30, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Hmmm, I believe the town, not the BOE owns the school buildings. Can anyone tell me how our elected officials let this problem develop and go on for so long. The Hawley school is starting to look like buildings at Fairfield Hills, disintegrating before our very eyes.
A. G. P. July 30, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Yes, you would have thought that while the grand list was skyrocketing would have been a good time to do some work there.
Gary Doski July 30, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Bruce, I remember talking about the boilers and other repairs to Hawley 8 years ago, and it was put off because of cutbacks, etc. I can't begin to understand how seemingly competent people in power, can repeatedly get it wrong time & time again. Then have the nerve to ask the taxpayers to pay for their mistakes.
Blue hill July 30, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I'm surprised they have yet to blame special education.
NewtownRocks July 30, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Renovating the building probably cost more than building a new school. Really, just plan to close it within 5 years and move on.
Truthteller July 31, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Gary Doski--These people are not seemingly incompetent. They ARE incompetent and who knows why they run for office, as they accomplish zero. They must just like being clost to the cookie jar, if you get the drift. $12.6 million to renovate Hawley? Why, that's about what the "much needed" (HA!) municipal center cost the taxpayers. Not that we'd ever know exactly, since les incompetents must hide the receipts. Spread the word to get out the vote.
Celeste July 31, 2012 at 10:36 AM
Great idea lets just SHUT HER DOWN!!!! Any thoughts as to where to put the kids? What are you people thinking? Please don't respond to me about lower enrollment. Hey here's an idea maybe we can purchase some of the old owner operator buses and change them into classrooms maybe just get some space heaters for the colder months and some really strong fans for when it gets warmer. What do think?
NewtownRocks July 31, 2012 at 11:57 AM
12 mil for a school with 80 kids in each grade does not sound like tax dollars well spent. The ADA act while well intentioned makes projects like this cost prohibitive. If the other elementary schools can take 25 to 30 kids at each grade level then their should be a plan in place to close the school. If not, then alternatives should be investigated. Refurbing a building with asbestos that is not ADA compliant does not make sense when you take emotion out of the decision.
Sam Mihailoff July 31, 2012 at 12:25 PM
K cars for everyone http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_K_platform
Douglas Brennan July 31, 2012 at 12:30 PM
If you had four schools would you shut the best performing one down? Why do you think that the 12 million is a real number? What would you be willing to spend to maintain it as a school? Now that is a real management decision. What should be done and what are we willing to spend to do it. Give them goal lines and side lines not some open ended exercise that places no constraints on those participating in the process.
Sam Mihailoff July 31, 2012 at 12:36 PM
oh Doug, you are being logical again...silly lad! How much has been spent on Hawley in the last decade??? I can't count that high. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQeDKjxMKbU
Paul Alexander July 31, 2012 at 01:47 PM
The performance of Hawley has nothing to do with its bricks and mortar and EVERYTHING to do with the staff and leadership there. It is not cost effective to maintain the building(s). Hawley needs to be closed. The orignal structure should be kept and repurposed. These people need to start making decisions as if they were spending their own money.
Paul Alexander July 31, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Put a visionary leader in charge of repurposing Hawley. NOT a committee of go along to get along people. One person with the authority to get the job done in a timely manner. Do something spectacular and cost effective...and dare I say, profitable...with the property in time for the building's centennial.
A. G. P. July 31, 2012 at 01:53 PM
This is not partisan rhetoric, but a real question: Is there a way to take advantage of low enrollment to prepare for the next time it rises? We have Reed because a bunch of houses were built, they WILL fill up with families and more new homes too (eventually). Maybe Hawley can "lay fallow" and be rejuvenated, at a slower pace with less borrowing, in time for the next wave.(?)
Douglas Brennan August 01, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Paul: You should have spent more time studying change management. If you change either the people, equipment, roles, responsibilities, communication or physical plant you have to change the other items to get the same or better results. Do not think that they are not interrelated. This is the biggest mistake that is made with non integrated change.
Paul Alexander August 01, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Ha! I spent 20 years as an active duty naval officer. I have a virtual PhD in "Change Management". Every squadron/ship gets a new Commanding Officer every two years or so. Officers/Aviators rolling in and out on two-year rolling cycles. Entire squadrons moving to new hangars as the deployment cycle rotates. Pick up all your people and materiel and go to sea for 7 or 8 months. I’ve seen more organizational change/chaos in those 20 years than you will see in a lifetime. And while all that is going on, performance in some squadrons remains consistently top performing in the midst of long term organizational chaos while performance in other squadrons goes from TOP performing to bottom of the barrel in one two year period with minimal organizational change. The ONE variable that accounted for it ALL was WHO WAS THE SKIPPER. Who was leading. Inspirational leadership overcomes it all. So study your books Douglas. It's mostly worth BS in the real world.


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