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Wednesday, August 21 News

Finance board OKs $32 million Coleytown renovation

WESTPORT — The Board of Finance unanimously approved a special appropriation of $31,972,235 with bond and note authorization to restore Coleytown Middle School.

“This has been a long, long 11 months since CMS closed. I hope this is the beginning of a much needed healing process for everyone in Westport,” CMS Building Committe Chairman Don O’Day said at the meeting Monday night.

The amount includes a 15 percent contigency of $4.5 million and was described as the largest appropriation the town had witnessed in the past 15 years.

O’Day said with approvals from the board and then the Representative Town Meeting, the school will be able to have its roof fully replaced, a new HVAC system, and more.

“We will treat every dollar like our own, and we’re going to oversee the work at Coleytown Middle School like it’s our own because it’s our kids that will be attending the new CMS for generations,” he said.

BOF Vice Chairman Michael Rea said he has had several conversations with the building committee throughout the process.

“I have the utmost confidence you’re going to live up to all of our expectations,” Rea said. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears will go into supporting this.”

Finance Director Gary Conrad said the town would go out to bond for the appropriation request for 20 years at an interest rate of 2.6 percent, with a $41 million payout over this term.

The annual payout would be $2.065 million, which is about 1 percent of the total town operating budget.

BOF Chairman Brian Stern said the town looks to seek state reimbursement for the restoration project through a grant. He estimated this could be anywhere between $2 million and $5 million, which would not be the usual 20 percent, due to exemptions.

“This will lead to natural re-prioritization of the capital needs of the town and the Board of (Education),” Stern said.

Though BOF members supported the restoration of the school, several members voiced their displeasure regarding clarity of the BOE’s plan for the building’s future.

On Friday, the BOE again reaffirmed CMS will remain a middle school. However, finance board member Lee Caney said he had hoped for a clearer intent with the building.

“Middle school aged kids doesn’t necessarily mean anything to me. It means five to sixth, sixth-grade academy, seventh to eighth, or sixth through eighth,” he said. “We were hoping for something much stronger.”

Caney said if the building were to be used as a sixth-grade academy, other questions would need to be asked.

Rea echoed Caney’s thoughts and called for an amendment that the restored building be used as a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school. The amendment passed 5-2, with Caney and Sheri Gordon dissenting, in hopes of giving the BOE an opportunity to make another statement.

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“This is a question of clarifying and being fair with the public,” Rea said of the amendment. “The best thing we can do for the taxpayers is to be clear and be fair.”

RTM Education Committee member Mark Friedman said Coleytown was an important element to the community and many supported the appropriation.

“There’s a lot of momentum in the RTM for this,” Friedman said. “Time is of the essence. Delay is harmful to the children.”

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