More public concern than support voiced at Miller-Driscoll meeting

There were numerous questions, comments and concerns from the public at the special town meeting regarding the $50-million Miller-Driscoll renovation project on Tuesday, Sept. 23.

More than 100 Wilton residents and guests attended the 7:30 p.m. meeting at the Clune Center, moderated by Stephen Hudspeth.

The meeting opened with the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee’s presentation, led by co-chairs Bruce Hampson and Karen Birck, Randall Luther from architectural firm Tai Soo Kim, and Ty Tregalis of Turner Construction.

Following the presentation, 15 Wilton residents stepped up to the microphone for public comment, a majority of whom either expressed concern, confusion or opposition rather than full-blown support of the renovation project.

Concerns

River Road resident Susan McCall voiced concerns about PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, can have “potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects.”

Ms. McCall asked whether the building would be tested for PCBs.

Mr. Hampson told her that if the bond is approved, “that will be one of the first things we test for.”

However, when she asked if testing would still take place if the project does not pass, she received no answer.

Marianne Gustafson, of Fox Run, voiced concerns about specifications of the project as well as ethics.

“Fifty million [dollars] is a lot to me and I think it is to a lot of people — I don’t know because I have not seen the specifications that have been made like the ceiling tiles, light fixtures — you could go the gamut,” she said.

“Are we at the high end of costs or are we at mid-level costs? I haven’t seen it; I’m concerned about that.”

Ms. Gustafson also said she received records from the town clerk’s office, which showed that “eight of the 13 building committee members had not been sworn in until last week, nor their ethics statements signed.”

“The compliance of that obligation was done after the fact. This was an oversight, not without precedent, when there are numerous committees with so many busy people who are willing to give their time to do the town’s business,” said Town Counsel Ken Bernhard.“The town always tries to keep track of who has been sworn in after appointments have been made, but occasionally, the process overwhelms people’s schedules and availability.”

Mr. Bernhard told Ms. Gustafson each building committee member has “complied with the obligation” and that “there are no conflicts and there are no ethical issues at this point.”

Ms. Gustafson concluded her commentary by pointing out that the committee “voted and hired consultants prior to doing all that,” which Mr. Bernhard confirmed.

John Macken, Chipmunk Lane resident, said he is “a strong proponent of fiscal responsibility” and “was hoping to see what that $50 million got us.”

“I think what you’re seeing here is people just don’t understand what these numbers actually break down to, and I don’t think the town has done enough to provide that information to all of us,” he said. “I think that’s exemplified by the fact that we have all these questions.”

Although he’s only been in Miller-Driscoll two or three times, Mr. Macken said, “there’s no doubt something needs to be done in that school.”

“I was going to vote yes, until — What are we actually spending $50 million on?” said Mr. Macken. “I still don’t know, and I think probably a lot of people here don’t even know either.”

Support

Former First Selectman Paul Hannah, of Shagbark Place, said he has supported many projects in Wilton over the years and supports this one as well.

“This is the biggest, but I think it needs to be done,” he said.

Deborah McFadden, of Westport Road, also voiced her support of the project.

“It’s a rare thing in Wilton when the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Education and the Board of Finance agree on anything — they never agree,” she said.

“They agree on this. They agree we should vote for this project.”

Ms. McFadden said the project is expensive, but necessary.

“The questions that have been expressed here tonight show great concern, great insight ... I think the questions have been fabulous, but some of these questions should have been raised a little bit sooner,” she said.

“Tonight, this meeting is to decide: Are we voting it up or are we voting it down? We’re past the point of modification of this project. I say let’s vote it up. Let’s pass this. That’s what we’re here for tonight.”

According to the registrars of voters, 142 people cast their ballots in person following Tuesday’s meeting — 140 registered voters and two from the Grand List.

Voting continues Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Clune Center, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

kbaker@wiltonbulletin.com