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.