The Riverfield School building committee presented the Board of Selectmen with a $13.9 million proposal Wednesday for the renovation and expansion of the school -- a project initially given a price tag of $15.1 million.
But the board, not willing to possibly compromise certain components of the project and educational specifications, chose to table its vote until its next meeting.
The project's purpose is to expand Riverfield and add classrooms to accommodate increased enrollment and renovate and upgrade the 52-year-old building.
The $15.1 million proposal had includes:
- Tearing down the "pod" structure connected to the school and building a two-story addition in its place
- Expanding the gym,
- Renovating some existing classrooms into resource rooms and a health suite,
- Replacing the lockers
- Providing central air-conditioning throughout the school
- Adding improved security measures to the entrance
- Upgrading bathrooms to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements
- Increasing the size of the kitchen
The selectmen sent the project back to the committee after it was presented in December 2012 because its estimated cost was significantly higher than the initial $11 million projection, and asked that the committee look into ways to reduce the price tag.
And so the committee brought forward a $13.9 million proposal, which includes the aforementioned components of the original proposal except for the expansion of the gymnasium and central air conditioning throughout the school.
Soil testing conducted since the December presentation revealed that the ground beneath the pod would make it difficult and costly to tear down the structure and build a two-story addition to the school, according to architect Kenneth Boroson, hired by the committee to draw up the proposal.
Instead, the new proposal keeps the pod and places the addition at the back of the school. The nurse's health suite would be added to Riverfield's central office, and more space for seating would be added to the cafeteria. To make up for that extra space, the stage in the all-purpose room would be removed.
The new proposal also adds a second serving line to the cafeteria to reduce the amount of time children stand in line during their lunch period. Both proposals include the elimination of Riverfield's portable classrooms.
Selectman Kevin Kiley wanted to know how much it would cost -- and if it was possible -- to build the originally proposed two-story addition on the questionable soil.
"I'm still troubled by the pod being there," Kiley said. "I don't hate it as much as the portables, but I like the brick and mortar two-story addition."
He was also concerned with how forgoing the gym expansion and removing the stage would affect Riverfield's programs and services.
"If I had my druthers, I would build the other [original] plan," Kiley added.
It was more of a philosophical issue for Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey, who acknowledged today's economy, the reality of Fairfield's taxpayers, and the need to address Riverfield's deficiencies.
"Are we willing to compromise, or do we make sure we do the right project?"
Parents and school board members made the case for the the need to update and expand Riverfield, telling stories of special needs students doing occupational therapy in hallways, those with learning disabilities working with aids in closets, and poor indoor air quality affecting students' learning.
"Our Riverfield reality is that our 50-plus year old school physically is not meeting even the most basic of standards," resident Amy Crawford said. "We want to be fiscally responsible; we don't want to spend more than is needed -- it is simply that, needed."
The selectmen decided to wait on project comparisons and an OK from the Board of Education to use the tweaked ed specs the committee utilized to design the $13.9 million proposal.
Despite putting forth the less costly plan, building committee chairman Tom Quinn plans to fight for the original proposal.
"The $15.1 million project we proposed is the right solution for Riverfield and it should go to the Board of Finance," Quinn said. "Devil may care, we'll fight the battle there. This is the right budget for the right school at the right time."