Letters: Miller-Driscoll renovation project

DTC endorses school project

On Sept. 23/27, the Wilton Democratic Town Committee urges residents to vote YES and support the Miller-Driscoll Renovation Project.

Over the past year and a half, the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee worked hard to craft for residents a renovation plan that would address critical infrastructure upgrades and transform the building to better accommodate educational programming both now and in the future, all while ensuring that the project would be fiscally sound. The proposal before voters next week accomplishes these goals.

Miller-Driscoll is in so many ways the gateway to our town. It is where children embark on their journey in the public schools, forming the educational and social foundations they will rely on through graduation at Wilton High School and beyond. It is where many parents first become involved in the public schools, developing new relationships with other parents and working together in support of their children and school. It is where prospective homebuyers look to help decide whether or not Wilton is the best place to raise their family.

The Miller-Driscoll project takes a 1960s-era school building and transforms it into a building consistent with the exceptional quality of instruction housed under its roof. A designated wing for pre-K, a more centralized floor plan, and improved campus layout (parking, playgrounds, courtyard, etc.) are all enormous strengths of the proposal. Equally important are much-needed investments in a new and energy-efficient HVAC system, roof, electrical systems and flooring.

The Building Committee and elected officials have done their due diligence to ensure that residents are getting the most value out of their tax dollars. The cost of the project is significant, but mirrors the scope of the investment. As has been presented and discussed, the costs of alternatives such as a new school building or an incremental approach will only cost the town more in the long run. Inaction would be even more costly.

The Wilton Democratic Town Committee believes strongly in the importance of providing our children with access to a quality public education. The new Miller-Driscoll will empower our students, teachers, parents — and community — to support the best possible education for the next generation of Wiltonians. We hope you will join us in supporting the project at the Special Town Meeting next week.

Thomas Dec, Chair

Wilton Democratic Town Committee

Schools vital to property values

After reading some of the accounts of the proposed renovation of Miller-Driscoll I felt I would like to make a statement. The talented volunteers that have worked on this proposal for so many months are so close to a solution that it would be a shame to waste all their good work because a few cannot see the benefit to the children.

My husband and I, both seniors, have been Wilton residents for 29 years and I have been a Wilton real estate agent for nine of those years. I have never had a child in the Wilton school system but I strongly support and will vote for the proposed renovation of the Miller-Driscoll Elementary School, if for no other reason but the safety issue, both environmentally and visual. Without safer entrances and playgrounds our children cannot be monitored properly and we all know where that could lead.

The single most compelling reason why my clients with families choose to locate in Wilton is our outstanding school system. For families with young children, the elementary school is the most important. It is the gateway to their education.

Wilton does not have some of the amenities other adjacent towns have. The attraction of the school system is the major factor keeping upward pressure on real estate values.

The renovation of Miller-Driscoll has gotten some bad press recently, hopefully not accurate or damaging. We cannot afford to let Miller-Driscoll deteriorate.

I feel a “yes” vote for the renovation of Miller-Driscoll School is a vote to keep our children safe and our property values strong. Please don’t assume because it is a good project that it will pass without your vote. Make this a record-breaking turnout at the poll this year so there will be a true picture of how our residents truly feel.

Gail M. Cioffi

No science room

I understand in the past Miller-Driscoll school had a dedicated science room for students, comparable to New Canaan public schools.  However, after the proposed $50M renovation is completed, it appears Miller-Driscoll students will not have a dedicated “science” room. The indication is that science will be taught via a cart  which will be moved around the building. If true, that would mean there could be no permanent displays nor ongoing projects to instill the normal curiosity of eager minds. Further, science instruction time will be reduced as the science teacher will need to spend time setting up, cleaning up and traveling for each class. We need more students looking at science as a career.

For $50M, the proposed Miller-Driscoll renovation is not providing Wilton students with an enhanced educational experience. We should be emphasizing science, not relegating it to second class status.

I am also very concerned about the cost of this project and the fact that it will drive more seniors out of Wilton. A town without seniors is not a healthy town.

Ken Dartley

The time for renovation is here

When I was president of the Miller PTA — 13 years ago — it was obvious then that the building was in need of an overhaul. Buckets in the hallway were common sights on rainy days; the HVAC system was so loud teachers had to disable it during class time; space was so tight that a closet we jokingly referred to as our “PTA office” was commandeered for teaching space; and parking was so inefficient that many were forced to park on Wolfpit Road to attend school functions.

Now, 13 years — and one new preschool — later, we have a chance to finally correct these flaws, and to renovate Miller-Driscoll into a 21st Century learning environment of which our entire community can be proud. The Miller-Driscoll Building Committee, which included a team of architects, engineers, financial analysts, security professionals and educators, worked tirelessly for the past several years to bring to the town a fiscally responsible solution that addresses all existing infrastructure issues, and also allows for a significant redesign and upgrade of the building’s current footprint.

Wilton taxpayers will be asked to fund $44 million of the total $50-million renovation cost. No doubt that is a high price tag. But consider two facts:

  • Failure to act will only postpone the inevitable, and we will at some point have to address these desperately needed upgrades, probably at a higher cost;
  • The proposed renovation cost is $393 per square foot.

A “2014 Report by School Building Projects Advisory Council,” which is a committee appointed by Gov. Malloy, found that building costs in Connecticut tend to be in the neighborhood of $500 per square foot.

As a current member of the Board of Education, I have seen dozens of residents stand up at our budget hearings and tell us “the reason we moved to Wilton was because of the schools.” Unless we make this investment in our elementary school, we run the very real risk of driving young families into neighboring towns, with consequences that would be felt by all Wilton property owners.

I urge Wilton voters to invest in our community by voting ‘yes’ on the Miller-Driscoll renovation project.

Christine Finkelstein

A ‘no’ vote is a sensible vote

When C. Northcote Parkinson offered his now famous principle “Parkinson’s Law,” he was concerned with the elasticity function that connects required tasks with production times. He postulated that: “Work expands so as to fill the time for its completion.”

In a similar way we might note that “Project requirements expand to fill the expected budget resources allotted to them.” It certainly appears that way, especially when the project is school building related.

The Miller-Driscoll project has expanded over 10 times in magnitude since inception. Because it could. And because in school districts across the country today, the architects and engineers are not paying the bills. It’s not their money being spent.

So let’s call this new principle “Millcoll’s Law” in honor of the runaway building costs right here in our own backyard.

Where’s the braking action in the process to slow down the overheated requirements that fast become tax obligations? Where’s the independent audit inspection to confine a project to its most critical elements in this difficult economy? Answers: Nowhere. Nonexistent.

The potential damage done under Millcoll’s is camouflaged at the outset — hard to see. Over time, it gets lost entirely as the selling and support ramp up and overwhelm.

Sensible Wilton suggests bringing this current example of unnecessary inflation under control. Vote “No” on the project. Vote sensibly.

J. R. Brenner

School project will enhance town

I write to urge passage of the Miller-Driscoll bond proposal next week.

As a former chairman of the Board of Finance and first selectman of Wilton, I was actively involved in expansion and renovation projects for Middlebrook and Cider Mill Schools and Wilton High. These projects have helped keep Wilton in the forefront of Connecticut school systems. They also have provided first-class facilities such as the Clune Center for the Performing Arts which benefit the entire community. These investments have benefited taxpayers enormously both by continuing the town’s tradition of offering quality education and also by enhancing the property values which follow good schools.

We are now presented with another major school project: renovation and expansion at Miller-Driscoll. A hard-working committee of qualified citizens (and taxpayers) worked several years on this project, which will provide many more years of life to the school’s 1960s era facilities. Like the school building done at the turn of the century, the Miller-Driscoll project will enhance quality-of-life and property values for all who live and pay taxes here.

Please vote yes on the bond issue at the town meeting Tuesday or at the referendum Saturday, Sept. 27.

Paul Hannah

Renovation cost is exorbitant

Wilton never ceases to amaze me. The Miller-Driscoll proposal is a first-class boondoggle. We have a proposal to renovate a school for $50 million that an architect (Hoffman report) said we could implement necessary repairs for under $500,000. These repairs should have been done as normal maintenance that was neglected by previous school management.

I readily concede there are probably other upgrades that are needed for student health, safety, and learning environment, but how this morphed into a $50-million project escapes me. I read in last week’s Bulletin with amazement, but not surprise, in an article by a member of the BOE that the proposed amount is not excessive when compared to Sandy Hook’s $60-million school that will be paid for by the state after the tragedy they experienced. This must be a new form of fiscal management where you compare yourself with the highest possible to show the taxpayers in Wilton that they are getting an unneeded project for a bargain price.

To validate my position I provided to the town boards copies of documents I obtained whereby reputable architectural publications and states have provided estimates for new elementary school construction. As documented even New York City, a notoriously expensive city, does not hold a candle to the MD proposal.

So now we have a largely unnecessary project, at an exorbitant cost, foisted on the taxpayers of Wilton. It’s no wonder Connecticut has been identified as one of the three most highly taxed states in the country and the worst state to retire in. We’re number one.

Uncontrolled school spending seems to be common in Connecticut. I’d like to refer you to an article from Connecticut magazine entitled “School construction is robbing us blind,” http://bit.ly/YPoSi9.

This a good summary of what I believe is happening in Wilton.

Alex Ruskewich

Invest in our schools

I am writing to encourage Wilton’s voters to attend the special town meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 23, and to vote to support the renovation of the Miller-Driscoll complex.

All three of my children attended Driscoll School and benefited from the strong teaching staff there. I would like to see that tradition continue by providing the next generation of students with a renovated and updated elementary school.

I attended Miller School too, four decades ago. Since then, the school has seen incremental changes and additions, with some spaces repurposed along the way.

The design put forward this fall is the result of extensive planning. It takes into account the basic needs for physical renovation, as well as the design needs of the pre-K and K-2 programs.

Wilton needs to invest in our schools, we should vote yes on this plan.

Bob Hoch

Renovation is good value

I am in favor of the Miller-Driscoll renovation project. The building is in desperate need of attention. The roof and HVAC system are past their normal life expectancy.

The state offers more assistance if we renovate than if we build new, so economically it makes sense to renovate. I acknowledge the cost is high but we will be getting good value for the investment.

I have seen two presentations on the plans and was pleased with the thought put into the modifications. There will be increased security, greater energy efficiency, a better facility for the pre-K program, a consolidated cafeteria, abatement of hazardous materials, expanded parking and better building flow. There will also be new playgrounds in the rear off the new cafeteria.

The town of Wilton has been planning and working on this for years. Please come to the town meeting on Sept. 23 or vote on Sept.. 27. Vote yes for the Miller-Driscoll renovation.

Deborah McFadden

Renovation will benefit children

As a mother of three children who attended Miller-Driscoll School, I am writing to support the Miller-Driscoll School renovation project.

This is a fantastic school with a caring and high-quality teaching staff. However, the facilities need to be renovated, as the buildings are getting old and tired. The comprehensive plans prepared by the building committee are excellent and when completed will restore the school complex to a newer modern facility that will benefit the children of our community.

Please vote “yes” for this important project.

Jennifer MacGregor

Renovation project is financial suicide

It is admitted by its proponents that the proposed Miller-Driscoll renovation project will cost $50,000,000, with $44,000,000 plus interest to be imposed on the town’s residents as a de facto lien, executable through the power of taxation.

This enormous amount is far higher than those officially proposed for repairs and improvements in 2009 and 2010: $11.7 million and $10.4 million, respectively. This project has, therefore, followed a pattern common to most such large-scale public projects: an initial proposal for arguably necessary repairs and improvements has metastasized into a grand design for a pharaonic monument with a splendid “line of sight.”

Of course, it has not been fashionable in recent decades to exercise fiscal restraint. Those who manage public finances have assumed an ever-expanding tax base borne on a tidal wave of economic growth.

If one relies on statistics thrown out from the federal government, he might be led to believe that a kind of “recovery” is occurring. But such statistics are, at best, designed to deceive the public to believe the economy is much healthier than it is.

For example, when the consumer price index is determined in the manner used prior to 1980, it is found that the rate of inflation is now about 6%, rather than the 2% rate fantastically asserted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consequently, when the deflator, based on a grossly understated inflation measure, is applied to nominal GDP, it appears the economy is expanding, when in fact it is shrinking.

The town’s tax base depends on the health of businesses such as financial services. In 2009, the too-big-to-fail (and too-big-to-jail) banks forced a change of accounting rules to permit them to assign full value to worthless assets on their balance sheets. So, these banks, which in fact are insolvent, use deceptive means to convey an image of financial soundness.

And as time goes on, the use of the U.S. dollar in international trade is steadily declining, reflecting the ongoing disintegration of the petrodollar system and the revulsion of foreign nations at the relentless debasement of the dollar by the Federal Reserve and U.S. government, under the control of the insolvent banks.

So, many knowledgeable observers, who are not beholden to these institutions, are warning of a looming collapse of the dollar’s value, and consequent economic chaos in the United States. The insolvent banks are very unlikely to survive this shock. This collapse is certain to occur well before even a substantial portion of the $44,000,000 project debt is repaid.

When this does occur, a far greater tax burden will befall the taxpayers due to economic collapse and the consequent loss of employment by so many. To vote for this burden would be suicidal: vote NO, and let town officials formulate a reasonable plan instead.

Eugene L. Flanagan

‘Yes’ vote is the right vote

Nearly 45 years ago we selected Wilton to be our home and the highest priority reason was the superior primary and secondary education capabilities existing in the schools. Top quality education is still the main reason so many young families move to this town. Before we came here, many people had stepped up and put the facilities and staffs in place to insure our excellent education system. Now, we deem it is our turn to step up on behalf of those who will come through in the future, giving them the same outstanding life preparation that our children received.

A group of knowledgeable and capable people have worked tirelessly to examine the requirements and put in place a plan to meet Wilton’s future primary education needs. The completion of this project in December 2017 will be a significant accomplishment and milestone, as this major renovation assures our ability to meet state mandates and provide the best education possible for children in those very important early years. This proposal includes critical upgrades to the physical plant, better health, safety and accessibility changes, improvements to the teaching and learning environment, energy efficiency and enhancements to the entire educational program. It is our responsibility to see that the resources are available to make this plan a reality.

The ability to have construction happening while school is in session will provide a unique opportunity for young children to learn more about major building construction, the safety requirements involved, joint effort and activity, and cooperation. This has been done very successfully in Wilton in the past.

To extend the life of Miller-Driscoll 25-30 years through a carefully planned renovation and without spending far more to build a new school is certainly the most logical and financially prudent choice. The price tag is not excessive for the improvements the school will have, and is in keeping with costs throughout Fairfield County.

We plan to vote YES for the M-D proposal because we have confidence in those people who have made it their business to do it right. They looked with full perspective at what needs to be done, how it is to be done, who is to do it and how much it should cost. We trust their decisions and judgments and urge all other Wilton voters to endorse their efforts with a positive appropriation vote.

Some who have come forward to challenge certain aspects of the plan readily express a willingness to spend whatever is needed to do the job right. They have exceptions to elements of the proposal as stated. But those contentions have been examined, and they contain significant misinformation and errors.

The proposal under consideration stands as the way to go and we say with enthusiasm, “Let’s make sure it happens.” Please share our positive vote after the meeting on Tuesday, the 23rd, or on Saturday, the 27th, and keep Wilton at the top of the education list where it belongs.

We have an obligation to our children and their future. Please don’t let them down.

Gail and Ray Moskow

Due diligence done

In 2006, the leadership of the Wilton Public Schools and the Board of Education assessed the requirements of the existing pre-school program to determine the appropriate course of action for development of a facility that would meet the mandates for pre-school education.

In May 2007, the citizens of Wilton approved a request for $150,000 to conduct architectural and engineering studies for a capital building project to address space and programming issues at the pre-school, which was located in the complex that housed the Miller and Driscoll schools.

The studies were completed and in March 2008, the Wilton BOE approved the Statement of Requirements planning document for a pre-school building project.

Marketplace conditions in 2008 impacted the project, but the initiative was resumed in 2011 because the issues that needed to be addressed at the school complex still existed.

At that time, the planning document was updated to reflect the fact that the Tilford W. Miller School and Ina E. Driscoll School had been combined into a single school beginning with the 2010/2011 school year; and that changes had been made to pre-school services and project-related wetlands and septic surveys had been conducted since 2008.

More than seven years after the first conversations related to the Miller and Driscoll schools were held, Wilton voters are being asked to approve the Miller-Driscoll Renovation Project.

The due diligence has been done. The plan, which has been thoroughly researched and painstakingly vetted, is fiscally sound.

As a former member of the Wilton Board of Education, the Long-Range Planning Team for Miller School and Driscoll School, and the original Miller-Driscoll Project Steering Committee, I urge the electors of Wilton to vote “yes” on the Miller-Driscoll Renovation Project.

Miller-Driscoll School provides the first structured academic experience for the youngest (K-2) and most vulnerable (pre-K) students in Wilton. It significantly influences future academic, social and emotional gains for each of the students enrolled there.

This is a wise investment in the town’s future. And it’s the right thing to do for the students.

Troy Ellen Dixon