Notes from the Board Table: Aligning key operations with district's mission

With more than a month left of summer break, I’m betting that the inner-workings of the Wilton Public Schools are not foremost on the minds of most Wilton families. But rest assured, our new superintendent, Dr. Kevin Smith has been giving our current policies and practices a great deal of thought, and has hit the ground running with ideas for assessing key operations to ensure they are aligned with our district’s mission and goals.

The Board held a “special” meeting on Monday, July 21, during which Dr. Smith outlined the formation of three distinct standing committees:

  • Business Operations.
  • Communications, Alignment and Policy.
  • Teaching and Learning.

Each committee will be comprised of two Board members, Superintendent Smith and all appropriate administrators. The purpose of the committees will be to allow for an in-depth review of current processes/programs, determine ways to improve, and then establish ways to measure our effectiveness.

The new committees will allow members of the Board to become more involved in District policies and procedures, and therefore more effective in our work to continually improve our schools. I am sure you’ll be hearing more about the these committees as work begins in earnest over the next few weeks, and we are grateful to Dr. Smith for beginning his tenure in Wilton with such a positive, forward-looking concept.

Something else you will be hearing a lot about is the Miller-Driscoll renovation project, which will be the subject of a town-wide referendum on Sept. 23.

I hope this project is not news to you — renovating/upgrading the building has been under discussion for several years now, and under the guidance of a Board of Selectmen-appointed building committee since 2013.

As anyone who has spent time in Miller-Driscoll can attest, the building is badly outdated and in need of repair and upgrading. The facility has been further strained with the addition of the state-mandated preschool services program which has stretched capacity to the point where we now have teachers operating out of nooks that were originally custodial closets and students routinely receiving instruction in the hallways.

The Miller-Driscoll Building Committee, led by co-chairs Bruce Hampson and Karen Birck, have proposed an ambitious and well-constructed plan to completely overhaul the existing structure. The footprint of the building will be dramatically changed, with the removal of two of the least efficient cores, the creation of two new additions (one for the pre-school and one to centralize the cafeteria, specials rooms, gyms and play areas — these additions will also significantly improve the ease of navigating the facility) creation of a clearly designated main entryway, reconfiguration of current classrooms, redesign of exterior traffic flow, complete replacement of the building’s roof and HVAC system, upgraded technology, and refurbished restrooms, to name just a few of the improvements. You can review a complete listing of the project’s “Statement of Requirements” on our website.

The price tag for the renovation, and the figure voters will be asked to approve on September 23, is just shy of $44 million. Many people have asked why we don’t just build an entirely new school, rather than try to upgrade a 60-year old facility. I had the same question when I first became engaged in the process.

According to representatives from Turner Construction, who will manage the renovation, there are a few reasons:

  • Cost: New construction would cost between $70-80 million, would require the town to assume a significantly larger amount of debt and would result in a reduction in the percentage of state reimbursement the town receives (the state reimburses less for new construction than it does for renovations).
  • Space: Construction of a new facility would require roughly 35 acres of flat, usable land. Such a parcel simply does not exist in Wilton. I confirmed this by working with the leadership of the Building Committee and the Town Clerk’s office to look at every parcel we could think of (including the town forest). Allen’s Meadow seemed like the most viable option until we learned that the bulk of that parcel is controlled by the State Department of Transportation which is unwilling to trade it, sell it or let any structure be built on it. We even explored this with our state representatives. Consideration was also given to building on the current open portions of the Miller-Driscoll property. Unfortunately, there is no where near enough space to conduct school and build new at the same time.

We will provide numerous opportunities for residents to learn more about this project in the coming weeks. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the project by visiting the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee website: restrooms.

The Board of Education and the Board of Selectman have given this project their approval, with the Board of Finance scheduled to give its final review in early August. Whether or not this project becomes a reality will depend entirely on you, the citizens of Wilton, and the outcome of the September 23 vote. Please get your questions answered and then get out and vote and let your fellow citizens know how you feel about this project.

The Board of Education has scheduled its next meeting for Thursday, Aug. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Wilton High School Professional Library. School will be back in session by then, so I hope you will be able to attend, or tune in via Channel 73.

Bruce Likly, Chairman

Wilton Board of Education