View from Glen Hill: A school to be thankful for

At this Thanksgiving time when we especially express gratitude, the Miller-Driscoll rebuild is something for which we can all be truly thankful. Many of us have now seen firsthand during open houses like the one held 11 days ago the excellence of that work, completed right on schedule as the new academic year began. Parents, teachers, and children alike have been expressing their admiration for the result.

In fact, that result is a remarkable combination of usefulness and attractiveness brought together in a very inviting atmosphere for all, down to the very youngest preschoolers. Rooms are light, airy and open, and teachers remark on how well their classrooms work for their students and them. Hallways are spacious and colorful with such well-thought-out features as ceiling tiles placed so that they are still sound-absorbing and decorative while not blocking ready access for maintenance and repair to the entirely new and much-needed mechanical systems above them. However, where structural elements and furnishings could be conserved and reused, it is evident that they have been.

A walking tour leaves one really impressed with all of the thought that went into the design by TSKP Studio (formerly Tai Soo Kim Architects) and the carefulness that went into the construction. And on the latter score, great credit goes to Turner Construction and its on-site project manager Mike Douyard and to our own town and schools facility manager Chris Burney. Turner has a well-deserved reputation for bringing its projects in well-done and on time, as has been our town's own experience with Turner in other major builds including at our high school.

And surely huge credit goes especially to Bruce Hampson and Karen Birck, the building committee chairs who saw the Miller-Driscoll rebuild through from its earliest stages, with Bruce doing careful hands-on oversight work for it just has he did for the earlier high school project. Later Building Committee Chair Glenn Hemmerle and the entire building committee, retired Board of Education Chair Bruce Likly and present Chair Chris Finkelstein, Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith, former First Selectman Bill Brennan and present First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice and their respective select boards also deserve special accolades for having the courage and foresight to plan and support this project and to see it through to such a successful conclusion.

At $36.2 million cost to our town, the project came in $7 million under budget — and almost $14 million under the $50 million our town voted to appropriate for the project, thanks to the well-under-budget result and the $7.1 million in state subsidy funds of which 95% have so far been paid to our town. Had our town attempted a new build, no state subsidy funding would likely have been available since new builds are disfavored by state education authorities who control the subsidy funding and who strongly favor rebuilds, and in any event, such a new build would most likely have cost twice the $36.2 million our town has actually incurred for this rebuild.

Karen Birck and Bruce Hampson have both been very faithful volunteers for so many years and in many different ways for our town using their great professional talents to makes things work really well on projects that require enormous amounts of careful planning. And for that long-term thoughtfulness and care for all of us and our town we can also be very thankful. For Bruce that has included earlier town builds such as the one at the high school, each of which has come in at or under budget and each of which has benefited enormously from Bruce’s construction management expertise.

Bruce has an outstanding ability to develop good relationships with contractors such that they understand and appreciate his insistence on excellence and his careful monitoring of their work and also his support for them — having their backs — if they live up to their obligations. Bruce, like Chris Burney now, also knows well how to navigate the often byzantine processes involved in securing state approvals and addressing state oversight. Bruce has also played a very important role in the work of our town Energy Commission, just as Karen has on the Board of Education, among their many other volunteer undertakings for our town.

Their modeling of good citizenship in such arduous volunteer work for our town earned them the Y’s Distinguished Citizen award a year and a half ago, and we owe them profound appreciation for what they have done so faithfully and so well for us all in so many areas and especially most recently on the outstanding Miller-Driscoll rebuild.