Board of Ed talks future of portable classrooms, school libraries study

Darien's Board of Education building at 35 Leroy Avenue

Darien's Board of Education building at 35 Leroy Avenue

Board of Ed

The future of portable classrooms was the main discussion at last week’s Board of Education meeting.

A proposed facilities study would tie the portables study together with the libraries reminaged study for efficiency’s sake. The Board of Ed discussed the possiblity of creating classrooms in the existing libraries.

The specific portables being discussed included:

— Hindley Elementary (5 Modular Classrooms)

—  Holmes Elementary (2 Modular Classrooms)

— Royle Elementary (4 Modular Classrooms/Office)

Board member Dennis Maroney spoke about two topics discussed at the Facilities Committee meeting on Nov. 14, the first one being the removal of portables and combining it with the libraries reimagined project, which was voted to move to the BoE to interview architects.

Superintendent Dr. Alan Addley said KG&D did a study about removing the portables but didn’t tell them how to plan it. Addley said, “In all honesty, we have the library reimagined project.”

He continued to say that people in the district have done great work on libraries reimagined, but when it came to budget, spending $1.5 million on furniture is problematic with nothing reimagined while using tax payer funds and PTO funds. Instead, it should go to a comprehensive plan from an architect that combines the portable removal and library projects.

According to the memo submitted from Richard Rudl, director of school finances, all Darien schools’ library spaces will be evaluated in the study except for Ox Ridge School. The estimated cost for the combined study would be approximately $34,000 and take approximately three to four months.

Addley said by potentially having classroom space in libraries, why go through with the projects separately. He requested to have an architect come and look at the various schools with a figure of about $34,000.

Board Secretary Debra Ritchie said, “I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s great, I think marrying those things together would be a great idea. It’s an efficient use of taxpayer’s money. “

Board Chairman Tara Ochman then said, “I like this idea and I hate to be the naysayer but I haven’t heard much about libraries reimagined. I understand the portables. So I think, at least for my own opinion, I just need to understand this reimagination project.”

Ochman added that portables “are certainly the highest priority.”

“I would just like to understand why that’s the other project we’d be doing rather than classroom spaces or something. So I would just look for more information on what libraries reimagined needs, and that’s not taking away from all the good work —I just need an update on that, I haven’t heard about it in awhile,” she said.

Dr. Addley responded, “That’s fine. I was working under this assumption to some degree that everyone was on board with libraries reimagined. But we need more information, an update historically on what’s been done up to date and where we are, we’re happy to provide that.”

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Susie Da Silva also responded to Ochman’s request, saying, “I’m glad to bring that back here to revisit that same work we did a year ago, conceptually it has not changed.”

She added that the school and district-based teams have met and while the vision of the plan hasn’t changed, it is the implementation that they are seeing challenges with. If the board would be spending $1.5 million on a space, they don’t want walls or other issues to get in the way of things they value, so they felt like they needed to take a step back.

Board member John Sini reinstated, “If you’re looking at the data, you did say nothing has changed.” Da Silva retold the board nothing has changed in concept and added that they have school based reports specific to the needs of their school based on spaces that have at that given time.

Da Silva further explained that what changed in the reports were based on spaces and would be beneficial for the architect to meet with school based teams to actualize the vision and specific classroom needs. When they begin to look at all the changes that need to be made, it’s become clear that they are still running into the same challenges in not actualizing some of the components.

Vice chairman David Dineen stated that he loved the concept, but mentioned that in the original Five Year Plan, Hindley proposed for a new library. He went on to explain the amount of work that could need to be done at the three schools that have portables, including HVAC, roofing, and resizing cafeterias as possible future projects.

Dineen brought up Ox Ridge’s ripple effect, that once it’s built, they’ll eliminate the portables. Spending $35,000 is going to create really good libraries reimagined classrooms, he said, but then looking at a budget of $80 million to spend to get all the schools to where they need to be is what they should be cautious of in terms of keeping priority improvements the priority.

Ochman clarified that Dineen was being more explicit than her idea of needing an update and stated that she is not wondering about the projects timing, but “some schools have significant issues and we need to prioritize those as an updated master plan that’s now 5 or 6 years old? That’s where I am. I don’t want to tie us to libraries.”

Ritchie referenced the presentation of the updated Five Year Capital Plan from earlier in the meeting by Director of Facilities Michael Lynch, which has $8 million in projects. “I do think that we should visit that master facilities plan, so we can see the impact of Ox Ridge and what the trickle effect is on that and what the real needs are for these schools.”

Sini then said, “I think you’re missing the priority here and it’s portables,” in which a few audience members applauded. “You’re dancing around this issue.”

Ochman responded stating “Nobody’s dancing around portables.” Sini replied saying, “Well I heard reimagined libraries three times and portables zero.”

She then said, “Actually that’s incorrect. I started with portables being the priority. My question is, only having heard about the libraries for over a year, and the portables are the priority, and so to tie them necessarily, I would like the portables and then any other significant need, inclusive or exclusive of libraries to be looked at. Portables, everyone has said for as long as we’ve been looking at this and Ox Ridge’s trickle, are the priority.”

Ritchie clarified that the trickle effect will include Royle’s portables being eliminated, but that some of the schools have other issues that need to be addressed.

Board member David Brown asked Michael Lynch that if the architects have to focus on a matter of importance while other projects had started, will they be losing steps in the big picture? Lynch answered saying Brown was correct and added that architects can at times not look at all necessary inadequacies and doesn’t want the board to fall into that same trap again.

Maroney said that since the Five Year Plan began in 2016 and ends in 2021, why re-do another plan. He also said, “I appreciate your point Tara, but I think we need to come up with a plan to get rid of those portables as soon as possible and then bring up other things after.”

Ochman responded, “I guess I’m not being clear. My own opinion is that no one is saying don’t go forward. What it worries is tying it to libraries reimagined when the board hasn’t heard about it in so long. The portables need to be gone. If I was unclear about that, my apologies. A hundred percent I’d like to see those gone as soon as they can.”

The board will discuss the reissued report at the following meeting.