Wilton schools ask for financial flexibility to accomplish building upgrades

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith and Board of Education Chairperson Deborah Low sat before the selectmen Tuesday asking for some financial flexibility to finish some building upgrades.

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith and Board of Education Chairperson Deborah Low sat before the selectmen Tuesday asking for some financial flexibility to finish some building upgrades.

Jarret Liotta / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — School district officials came before the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night, asking that certain capital operating projects were moved from their budget to the selectmen’s to provide flexibility for a number of anticipated upgrades.

The financial flexibility would allow for simpler planning of capital projects needed to update the schools, which officials are anticipating, and have previously had to table due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Before gaining unofficial support from the selectmen, who chose not take a vote as the schools will also need support from the town’s Board of Finance next, Wilton schools’ superintendent laid out the need in the schools infrastructure as it ages.

“Like so many of the facilities in town, you know, our schools are remarkably well-maintained, but they’re aging,” Superintendent Kevin Smith said, noting that certain areas of the schools “are really showing their wear and tear.”

Deborah Low, the Board of Education chairperson, said that while no projects are currently in the works, the district is anticipating updates such as ripping out carpets to be replaced with floor tiles, renovating bathrooms that are in disrepair and upgrading an elevator that “has seen its useful life.”

“Those types of expenses sometimes take more than one fiscal cycle,” Low said. Under “normal conditions,” she said, the district would have to spend the money within a certain, alloted amount of time.

Smith said the best examples of school infrastructure that need immediate attention are updates at Cider Mill Elementary School, Middlebrook Middle School and Wilton High School.

“Some years ago, we were able to do a pretty substantial facility upgrade at Cider Mill,” Smith said. The “mechanicals in the building were in good shape” and the roof was repaired. He said the district is now looking to complete the final parts of that facility upgrade that were never addressed.

“The carpet was old and worn out, as it is at Middlebrook and the high school,” Smith said. He also said the district will need to replace ceiling tiles and lighting fixtures in multiple school buildings and then paint the entire facility.

Middlebrook has some asbestos abatement required, as well as some moisture mitigation in one section of the building. That work will need to be done before any flooring tile can be installed, Smith said.

The full scope of this work is set to take place over multiple years and Smith, Low and CFO Anne Kelly-Lenz anticipate the project to be costly.

In anticipation of the cost, Smith said the district hired an electrician over the last year who is “able to do all of the lighting upgrades at far less expensive costs than if we contracted that work out.”

Kelly-Lenz stressed that the timing is important. If, at the end of the fiscal year, projects that were budgeted for aren’t completed, those funds return to the general fund, which “then you have to ask for it again,” she said. The elevator repair was something that was previously budgeted for but was not able to be completed due to the pandemic.

The money moved to the BOS capital operating line will have a hard cap. The agreed-upon price budgeted for the projects will be the limit that the schools are eligible to use, and are not able to pull money from other areas of the selectmen budget.

If the two parties agree on a price and the cost of work rises above that price at any point, the BOE must go elsewhere to look for that money and may not take from the BOS capital budget, Kelly-Lenz said.

“Before I would ever vote to support this, I want to have a conversation with the Board of Finance and see what they are thinking,” Vanderslice said after calling the BOE request a “good idea.”

Further plans and timetables will be drawn up by the schools and they will need to present to the BOF next.