District orders study on school space utilization

The Board of Education voted during its March 9 meeting to engage the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) to conduct a facilities feasibility study of Wilton’s four public schools.

Superintendent Kevin Smith, who spent months discussing the idea with the board’s Business and Operations Committee, said the recommendation is “as a result of questions primarily centered around perceived excess space at Miller-Driscoll.”

“Should the enrollment decline trend continue and those smaller classes move through, we’re going to see the potential for surplus classes all across the district,” he said, “so we proposed conducting a study and analysis of our total educational space across the four schools, the current utilization, the future needs, and then to solicit some space utilization recommendations based on that analysis.”

The analysis, he said, would provide the Board of Education with “a basis for decision-making regarding possible alternative grade level configurations and possible alternative use of facilities.”

"The scope of the study [would be] all four schools and examination of enrollment and examination of our educational program — both in existing programs and whatever future plans we have,” said Smith, as well as “capacity analysis and then current grade-level organization.”

In addition to the New England council, Smith said, proposals were also solicited from Milone & MacBroom and Drummy, Rosane Anderson, Inc. All three firms, he said, “have strong recommendations and solid references.”

“I’ve personally worked with DRA, and Milone & MacBroom has engaged with us on enrollment study,” said Smith.

“I’ve never personally worked with NESDEC, but they’ve provided services to Wilton in the past and many Connecticut districts are affiliates of NESDEC, including most locally, New Canaan, Westport and Norwalk.”

While the scope of the work would be similar, Smith said, the amount charged by the firms varies quite significantly.

At the high end, he said, Milone & MacBroom proposed a cost of $33,000 to conduct that work, while DRA came in at $22,800 and NESDEC was the low bid at $18,975.

NESDEC may be the least expensive, but based on references and work the firm has conducted in other places, Smith said, “I think we can expect a quality product from them.”
Two-part study
The facility feasibility study would be the first part of a two-part study.

Smith said he spoke to Wilton’s Facilities and Energy Management Director Chris Burney, who reflected “his own observations about the aging HVAC system at Cider Mill and at Middlebrook and recommended that we [lead] into ... a study of the architectural designs and the mechanical designs.”

“My thought would be to conduct a second follow-up study that would inform some of the long-range planning,” said Smith.

“That really would focus specifically on the existing infrastructure and that would factor into any decisions that we’d make going forward about space utilization and what we might do.”