Letter: School renovation will benefit property values

To the Editors:

Wilton taxpayers will vote later this month on a major renovation of the Miller-Driscoll Elementary School complex. The Miller-Driscoll Building Committee has spent considerable time to develop the building’s functional and educational requirements and to evaluate design alternatives that meet the requirements in a cost-effective way. They have now placed their recommendation in front of the town for a vote.

Those familiar with the current Miller-Driscoll situation agree that the current complex has major physical and functional problems that need to be fixed. The building systems are old and inefficient, raising issues like the recent focus on indoor air quality. The roof has been leaking for years, causing structural damage. After Miller and Driscoll schools were merged, there were major functional problems due to the sprawling layout that was a direct result of merging two buildings that were never designed to be combined. Finally, the old schools were of an open-access, multiple-entry design that is not appropriate for the heightened security requirements this school needs to provide. The new MD design fixes all of these problems and substantially improves the functionality of the building as a single, unified elementary school.

To save a considerable amount of taxpayer money, the Board of Education wisely abandoned a new construction alternative it first considered and concentrated on a major renovation instead. Using the new construction cost of Sandy Hook Elementary School ($600/square foot) as a proxy, the 123,000-square-foot MD plan would indicate a new-build cost for Miller-Driscoll of approximately $74 million. This would be significantly higher than the current renovation proposal of $50 million ($44 million to be paid by Wilton taxpayers after state school construction subsidies).

Therefore, the current MD renovation design plan saves Wilton approximately $24 million over a similar-sized newly constructed building originally considered by the board. Still, $44 million is a lot of money, especially considering that only a small part of the Wilton population would directly benefit from attending the “renovated–as-new” elementary school.

However, there is a larger issue for Wilton taxpayers to consider that is often overlooked or underappreciated. Our neighboring towns have amenities such as beaches, access to the Metro-North main line or charming downtowns in addition to quality schools. Wilton’s main amenity is its highly rated school system.

Our home values are high mainly due to the demand of people wanting to move into Wilton to access our quality schools. If our schools drift down in quality, these homebuyers will look elsewhere. We are competing with Darien, New Canaan, Weston, and other neighboring towns for new homebuyers. Having a top school system is a major factor why they choose Wilton over our neighbors.

So voting for a significant redevelopment of Miller-Driscoll to bring it up to modern building and educational standards is a vote for maintaining the overall high quality of the Wilton Public Schools and, by extension, a vote supporting our property values.

Jeff Rutishauser

8 Maplewood Lane, Sept. 8