Two options presented for Miller-Driscoll renovation

The Miller-Driscoll Building Committee was joined by representatives of Tai Soo Kim Partners architects at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen last week to present two options for the renovation of the Miller-Driscoll School.

Both options would fulfill the objectives outlined by the selectmen for the project, committee Chairman Bruce Hampson said, but the committee “unanimously” supported option one, as it would “best meet the needs of the students and the needs of the town,” he said.

The major objectives outlined for the Miller-Driscoll project included:

• Completion of all deferred capital infrastructure projects.

• Addition of preschool space to accommodate a growing special needs pre-K program.

• Renovation of the school to meet current codes.

• Improvement of the teaching and learning environment for the foreseeable future.

• Design of a project that provides value to the community and gains approval of the voters.

Mr. Hampson began his presentation stressing that a renovation is equivalent to a compromise, and the committee had attempted to meet these objectives while trying to “keep the good, and renovate what is not.”

When Tai Soo Kim took on the project, the firm identified a number of major problems that exist with the current building, lead architect Randall Luther said. In order to make the building a properly functioning school, the firm suggested the following specific changes:

• Add additional parking.

• Improve the flow of traffic.

• Create a contained and secure play area.

• Improve lines of sight around the perimeter of the building.

• Create easily identifiable main entrances.

• Correct building-wide student circulation problems.

• Make lower levels more accessible.

As it stands today, Mr. Luther said, the building’s odd shape makes it difficult for teachers and administrators to keep the school safe.

Internal circulation of students, the architect said, also has a negative effect on the overall atmosphere of the school. While admitting that moving 20 first grade students down a hall together is a challenge wherever it happens, Mr. Luther said the structure of Miller-Driscoll causes some classes to spend upwards of one hour per day in transit.

“Circulation in general for this school is very confusing. The plan, in general, is a very complicated number of clusters. It’s difficult for students to feel at home here, and to feel they are a part of a whole,” he said.

The school lacks any sort of reference point for students, he added, “which is very confusing for anyone visiting the school for the first time.”

Option 1

According to Mr. Luther, option one “does a lot of things for us,” and includes enough “real estate for additional visitor parking proximate to the front of school.”

Option one includes removing the current pre-K branch of the building, and moving the program to the basement level. It centralizes the building’s structure, making it flow more easily.

It would also allow the town to move the pre-K program, and provide it with its own separate entrance and parking. This would “take them out of the K-2 drop-off loop,” Mr. Luther said. “It gets the slowest-loading cars out of the road.”

Increased lines of sight for both the central office and the pre-K program, and better protected playground areas, would greatly increase the security of the building if option one were implemented, the architect said.

He also called option one a “transformative change.”

“It will change the way we perceive the school,” he said. “It will feel like a new school because it will be so significantly different. The removal of the peach core will allow for a more efficient addition inserted to connect the bottom level of the pre-K wing to the rest of the building.”

This change will also create an organizational principle, he said.

“There will be a symmetrical, expanded courtyard … and one central cafeteria in the back. Access from lunch to play is direct to the back,” he said.

“Travel time will be reduced,” he said.

Option 2

Option two is described as the “much more incremental approach” to the building and site, Mr. Luther said. While it would meet all of the objectives outlined by the selectmen, members of the building committee said it was their second choice.

Rather than demolish the existing pre-K building, it would be converted into space for music, art and special education classes.

Parking areas would be expanded on the south side of the site, though the new parking would not be “terribly proximate” to the school’s entrances, Mr. Luther said.

The currently existing “double entrances” would be reduced to a single entrance, but there would be no “significant change” to the building, he said.

“It would not look significantly different. The only significant addition would be in the basement for pre-K space.

“The rest of the spaces would be essentially where they are today. All the walls are essentially where they already are,” he added.

Both cafeterias would remain in use, forcing architects to keep the play area in the front of the school, where it is out in the open and thus relatively unprotected.

Indoor air quality

According to Mr. Luther, both options offer the same “fundamental” upgrades to the building’s aging HVAC systems. The building’s systems would be upgraded to meet current state indoor air quality code and high-performance building guidelines.

New classrooms would also meet the Connecticut Classroom Acoustic Code, Mr. Luther said.

By the numbers

Estimates provided by Turner Construction listed the cost of options one and two as $36,071,000, and $31,085,000 respectively.

Though option one would cost approximately $5 million more than option two, Mr. Hampson said it would provide a “superior value” for the town.

Construction related to option one would take approximately 135 weeks, according to Turner Construction, and option two would take approximately 97 weeks.