Miller-Driscoll project on the 'front burner'

Over the past several years, discussions about the future of the Miller-Driscoll School Complex have varied in scope and intensity. This past February, the issue was moved to the “front burner” when the Board of Selectmen appointed a Miller-Driscoll Building Committee to lead the project. Since any investments in Miller-Driscoll will require voter approval, I would like to provide a brief background on the issue, along with a quick overview of the project timeline.

Two key factors were responsible for moving the Miller-Driscoll project to the front burner:

1. The State of Connecticut mandates each school district to offer special needs services to children ages 3-5. Enrollment in this pre-school program has increased to the point where it has outgrown the space available at Miller-Driscoll. This is important because while many residents think of Miller-Driscoll as our “K-2 school,” it is, in fact, our “PreK-2 school.”

2. The original Miller and Driscoll school buildings were constructed in the 1960s. While a forensic study, conducted by external consultants last summer, determined the buildings are structurally sound, the study concluded that major mechanical and structural systems are in need of replacement. Based on the forensic study, the Board of Selectmen made the decision to renovate the buildings.

Prior to the appointment of the building committee, our Board of Education approved a “Statement of Requirements,” which codifies our priorities for the project. Our requirements were compiled following an exhaustive review of Miller-Driscoll’s existing capacities, an assessment of nationwide building trends in 21st Century elementary schools, and an analysis of future Wilton needs based on enrollment projections and other indicators.

A complete copy of this document is available on our website, but top recommendations include:

• Creation of appropriate spaces to accommodate 21st Century classroom learning; well-equipped special services areas; and in general, a safe, age appropriate and energy-efficient facility for PreK-2 learning;

• Complete replacement of the roof;

• Replacement of windows that have been determined to have faulty sealant and/or aluminum framing;

• Complete replacement of existing ventilation and air-conditioning systems;

• Replacement and upgrade of existing electrical infrastructure, which is more than 40 years old;

• Installation of code-compliant fire, smoke and CO detection, alarm, and sprinkler systems;

• Modifications, upgrades, and replacements of existing technology infrastructure to ensure that classrooms and learning spaces are sufficiently wired and able to meet increasingly technology-driven learning environments; and

• Addition of ADA-compliant restrooms in the K-2 portion of the building.

I am pleased to report that significant progress in moving the project forward has been made in recent months, with a few important decisions to be made in the coming weeks. Specifically, the building committee is on track to select architectural and engineering firms to design the project. The building committee will announce the names of the firms selected, and provide a general progress report, at the Aug. 19 Board of Selectmen meeting.

I should note that security will be a critical part of our renovation plan. As you may be aware, the Wilton Security Task Force is currently evaluating school security options, and will make its recommendation in the coming months. Our statement of requirements will be modified to reflect the task force’s recommendations.

As you can imagine, it has taken countless hours of tireless work by numerous individuals to get us to this point. I’d like to thank the members of the M-D Building Committee: Bruce Hampson (chair), Karen Birck (vice chair), Richard Dubow, John Guth, Cheryl Jensen-Gerner, Jim Meinhold, John Murphy, Jim Newton, Ann Paul, Fred Rapczynski, Ray Tobiassen, and Rick Tomasetti for their dedication to this project. Most recently, the committee has spent its summer reviewing the bid proposals submitted by several architectural/engineering firms, including extensive interviews with each applicant.

The Miller-Driscoll complex has served us well for the past 40+ years, but the time has come to give the building a badly needed overhaul so that it can continue to serve our children for another 25+ years. The project still needs to clear many hurdles before it is brought to voters for approval, possibly in the spring of 2014. We will keep you informed as the project progresses.