The new Miller-Driscoll School
Kendra Baker photos
With around 770 students expected to attend the newly renovated Miller-Driscoll School on Wolfpit Road this year, Principal Kathryn Coon said she and her staff were “ready.”
The Bulletin was invited to tour the renovated elementary school on Wolfpit Road on Aug. 30 with Coon, Turner Construction Project Manager Mike Douyard and Facilities and Energy Management Director Chris Burney.
Coon said she was “so excited” to welcome students into the revamped school — equipped with new furniture, ceilings, flooring, HVAC systems, windows, emergency sprinklers, playgrounds and more — on Sept. 5.
The renovation project included improvements to the school’s floor plan, security, energy efficiency and site circulation.
The project was slated at approximately $50.2 million, but is projected to come in more than $7 million under budget, with a forecasted net cost to taxpayers of $36 million — $14.2 million less than originally approved, according First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice’s August update.
Although rooms were still in the process of being set up at the time of the tour, the changes to the school were impossible to miss.
The tour started at the entrance of Miller-Driscoll’s new preschool wing, which includes — but is not limited to — four classrooms, a ramp, outdoor learning area and its own physical education room.
Miller-Driscoll’s preschool program — which “a lot of work” was put into last year, said Coon — has “a little bit of a waiting list for the typical peers” this year.
“We’re at four classes,” she said. “Next year, I think we’ll be at five, so that’s exciting.”
As part of the renovation project, different areas within the school have been assigned colors, such as blue and purple for kindergarten, orange and yellow for first grade, and red and indigo for second grade.
“We’ve got the rainbow,” said Coon.
Instead of cottages, the school will go by colors.
Not only will it just be “easier,” said Coon, but people will know which door to park by based on the outdoor canopies.
Speaking of parking, Burney said the school has “more parking spaces than there are staff.”
Rooms and areas
The main entrance of the school provides a clear view of people approaching and entering the school, and the main office features a multicolored check-in desk — giving it a more “welcoming” feel, said Coon.
The library got new windows, a new ceiling and a story tower “with a cute little platform,” said Coon.
There is also a new space for teachers to have lunch, which Coon said is something the school didn’t have during construction.
There is also a multi-purpose room with a new ceiling and stage, two rooms designated for continuing education, a larger nurse’s office, and a combined and centralized cafeteria. A windowless room will be used as Miller-Driscoll’s TV studio.
To enhance outdoor learning, an educational courtyard — featuring sunflowers, plant beds and picnic tables — has been built in the center of the school.
The school will also feature a STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — lab, thanks to an anonymous donation.
One of the new types of furniture are desks that not only have hooks for headphones, but are on casters — making them “more flexible for the kids to be able to move around,” said Coon.
The classrooms feature “brand new chairs that are much better” than the ones the school had before, said Coon.
“They have a little movement in them and they’re adjustable,” she said.
“We always give the kids flexibility because a lot of times, if kids have trouble with handwriting, the best thing for them to do is to lie on their bellies and actually do their writing.”
Some classrooms feature alternative types of seating.
For example, Coon said, “we have one teachers who’s making the tables really low and putting cushions on the floor.”
In one of the second-grade classrooms are Hooki stools, which allow students to move while sitting still.
“They work your core,” said Coon, jokingly adding that Miller-Driscoll students are “going to be smart and have rock solid abs.”
Because the project was three months early, said Burney, “nobody has to change classrooms over Christmas — I think that’s the big thing.”
Coon agreed. There was “a lot” of moving around last year, she said.
“The kids went with the flow — it was stressful, though, for the staff. It’s hard to pack up your room in the middle of the year and go to a whole new classroom,” said Coon. “I give my staff all the credit. They are unbelievable.”
Burney said the project was “a long journey” and it “would have been nice to have another week or two [so] everything could have been pretty much the way we wanted.”
There are “little things that are annoying us,” said Burney, but he doubts the casual observer will notice them.
“It’s not that the building’s not functional and safe,” he said. “It’s just not to the standard we want, but it’ll get fixed.”
In a welcome-back letter, Coon said, she let parents know there were a few loose ends to tie up, but “the majority of the construction” had been completed.
“Each teacher has a punch-list on their doorway that they can add to,” said Coon, and Turner Construction will work outside schools hours to finish up the project.
“We’ll be here for a couple of months, closing the job out,” said Douyard. “There are some odds and ends we have to finish up, and then most of it’s financial paperwork.”