Miller-Driscoll Building Project: Residents express support and concerns

A number of concerns and views were expressed during the public information session on the proposed $50-million Miller-Driscoll building project on Thursday, Sept. 4.

Around 40 people attended the 7 p.m. meeting in the Wilton Library Brubeck Room, where they were given a presentation and overview of the school renovation project.

The town will vote on the building project on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7:30 p.m., in the Clune Center. There will also be an opportunity to vote on Saturday, Sept. 27, from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The fate of the project will be determined by a simple majority of those who vote. If approved, construction is scheduled to begin January 2016 and the renovations completed in December 2017.

With a total project cost estimated at $50 million and an anticipated state reimbursement of $6.1 million, the anticipated net cost to Wilton is projected to be $43.9 million.

Miller-Driscoll Building Committee co-chairs Bruce Hampson and Karen Birck, Randall Luther from architectural firm Tai Soo Kim, Ty Tregalis of Turner Construction, First Selectman Bill Brennan and Miller-Driscoll Principal Cheryl Jensen-Gerner were present to answer citizens’ questions.

Nine Wilton residents and one Miller-Driscoll teacher commented on the Miller-Driscoll project.

Citizens’ comments included, but were not limited to, concerns about energy costs, cafeteria size and fiscal responsibility.

Energy costs

Wilton resident Deborah McFadden, of Westport Road, asked the building committee if it had incorporated “all the latest and greatest best practices to keep energy costs down.”

“Yes,” Mr. Hampson reassured Ms. McFadden, “and the proof will be in the pudding.”

Mr. Hampson said design development plans and specifications call for the building of an energy model of the Miller-Driscoll building that is put through “12 months of weather and calculates what real energy is.”

“That’s something that we want to do [and] we have to do it in order to get reimbursed,” he said.

A requirement of the state, explained Mr. Hampson, is that the base minimum energy performance for all building projects must be 21% better than the Connecticut State Building Code.

Ms. McFadden told the committee she fully endorses the renovation project and said she will encourage everybody she comes across in Wilton, “whether it’s at Stop & Shop or the gas station,” to vote in favor of the project.

Cafeteria size

Keelers Ridge Road resident Curt Noel inquired about the capacity of Miller-Driscoll’s two existing cafeterias.

“My understanding is it’s not a surplus capacity situation at all, and that a number of kids wind up taking their lunches back to their rooms because of the crowded cafeteria,” Mr. Noel said.

“I think there is some legitimate concern as to whether the new cafeteria will in fact have adequate space.”

The Miller-Driscoll renovation design includes one smaller, centralized cafeteria.

“Currently, the existing cafeterias are about 3,300 square feet and they are not at capacity,” said Mr. Luther.

Miller-Driscoll currently operates on a six-wave lunch schedule.

“If we were to take the student design population, which is about 880 students, and divide that into six waves, that’s 146 students per wave,” said Mr. Luther.

“The proposed capacity is to have a cafeteria that is about 2,700 square feet, and that will allow 180 students per lunch wave.”

Mr. Luther said although the design is for roughly 150 students per wave, there would be capacity for 180.

With regard to Mr. Noel’s comment about overcrowding in Miller-Driscoll’s current cafeterias, Ms. Jensen-Gerner said, “We don’t have any students that ever leave the cafeteria with their lunches because there’s no room.”

“If they leave the cafeteria with their lunches, there are individual issues that students have related to that, but they do not leave because of overcrowding,” said Ms. Jensen-Gerner.

“If you came in the cafeteria, not even every seat is used. The children aren’t cramped together. It does work.”

Fiscal responsibility

Mr. Noel also voiced concern regarding the cost of the building project.

“I think pretty much everybody in town was surprised by the $50 million number,” said Mr. Noel, who is part of a small group of residents encouraging others to “think carefully” and “be sensible.”

Mr. Noel distributed bright yellow cards that asks questions like:

  • Why pay $50M for a $25M project?
  • Why pay more than twice the cost and not get a new building?
  • Who gets the “extra” $25M?

“There are some of us who believe that $50 million is too much and folks should learn to live within their means,” said Mr. Noel.

A more extensive story will appear in the Sept. 11 issue of The Bulletin.