After months of community meetings, presentations, and discussions, the Norwalk Board of Education will be deciding between two options for the planned new Norwalk High School. Both options cost a little over $190 million and the plan is to receive about 80% reimbursement from the state.
Background on the project
According to Jim Giuliano of the Construction Solutions Group, who serves as the project manager, the Board of Education and city approved about $11.5 million in 2017 to do some improvements at the high school, including exterior painting, a culinary arts expansion, restroom renovations, mechanical system upgrades, structural repairs, hazardous abatement, and other aesthetic improvements. The city also began submitting some of these projects to the state to receive some reimbursements.
After the state received about three of these, Giuliano said state officials contacted Norwalk and asked for a “more holistic approach” to the future of Norwalk High School because they did not support the smaller piecemeal efforts to improve the building which was constructed in 1970.
Traditionally, the state reimburses anywhere from 20-30% of construction costs depending on if the building is new construction or if it’s a full renovation. Giuliano said that Norwalk officials said the city could not afford to construct a new school or do a full renovation of the high school “at this time” if that was the reimbursement rate. The state agreed to provide 80% reimbursement for the project if the city allowed the P-TECH program—Pathways in Technology Early College High School—which is housed at Norwalk High School to accept 100 students from outside of Norwalk.
Giuliano said that the city believed “this opportunity would probably not happen again, so we moved forward with the state's offer.”
Initially, the total project cost was slated for $225 million, but the state, “due to other competing projects,” according to Giuliano, allocated $189 million for the project, which forced the city to change its plans for the site. This included keeping the current science wing and renovating it as new, reducing the footprint, and potentially finding other funding options for the swimming pool. Both Mayor Harry Rilling and Superintendent Alexandra Estrella expressed support for keeping the pool in the project, after hearing concerns from parents about it potentially having to be cut. Rilling said in February that he was talking with a foundation about exploring potential “funding options.”
What are the current options?
After reworking the plans, the school district and its consultants came up with two options:
- Option A: Construct a new building in the footprint of the existing building
- Option B: Construct the new building on the current football field
Both options would keep in mind this idea of connecting the two programs—Norwalk High School and P-TECH–through a central media hub and some shared spaces, such as an auditorium and gym, as well as outdoor learning spaces.
The main differences would be the phasing for the projects.
In Option A, wings would be built in phases and students and staff would be moved in and out. For example, the Norwalk High School classroom wing would be built in the first phase and then students could move into that one, allowing part of the existing building to then be demolished and more construction to continue.
In Option B, there would be little to no phasing, since the existing high school could be built and then students and staff would be moved into it. The existing building could then be demolished and the football field could be rebuilt on that site. This option would allow for no disruptions to academic programs and building operations, but would impact the Norwalk High School athletics program.
The city’s consultants estimate that Option A would take about 55 months to complete and Option B would take about 51 months. Construction would take about five years, with a scheduled end date of late 2027, early 2028.
In a letter to the Board of Education, Alan Lo, the city’s buildings and facilities manager, recommends that the board approve Option B.
“We believe building a new school on Testa Field (Option B) is the most practical option,” Lo said. “This provides the least amount of disruption to academics and daily operations of the school as well as allows the design to be consistent with the educational goals of the new facility.”
The Board of Education will meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15 to discuss and potentially vote on these options.