New Central Middle School: Last Century or Built to Last?
Central Middle School (CMS) was finally approved for rebuilding following years of structural problems that came to a head when the building was condemned in 2022. But the same forces who refused to address the structural faults in the building are now committed to overruling the Board of Education and making the new CMS unreasonably small in the name of minimizing costs.
Do we build a brand new school for the next 8–or the next 80–years?
That is the question our eight member Board of Education (BOE) diligently wrestled with for five months while they endeavored to anticipate the future needs of Greenwich families. They made their decision with loads of input from involved and knowledgeable stakeholders, including the community, the superintendent, the CMS principal and 34 educators. The result is a detailed, 44-page Educational Specifications document that details the number of classrooms required, as well as needed square footage for spaces such as the cafeteria, media center, and auditorium. The BOE approved the document 5-0 during an August 2022 meeting. A CMS Building Committee, appointed by the First Selectman and approved by the RTM, is now charged with shepherding the project and is required by the Town municipal code to follow the BOE specifications.
Nevertheless, Republican leaders are mobilizing to override the Board of Education’s plans, and are insisting on a smaller building.
Starving our public schools–a Republican leadership specialty
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it happens every year. The Board of Ed carefully researches what our schools need, submits a reasonable budget, then the Republican-controlled Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) withholds needed funding. For CMS, the BET has set unrealistic budget guidelines for the rebuild that threaten to shrink the school before there is even an architectural drawing in hand.
Nisha Arora, the Republican BET appointment to the CMS Building Committee, has been lobbying to reduce the proposed building size by at least 40% – which would result in a middle school smaller than some of its feeder elementary schools. Her public airing of erroneous claims behind the backs of her colleagues earned her a letter of rebuke, a call for censure from fellow Building Committee members, and a reproach from a Republican PTA president. Only intervention by First Selectman Fred Camillo prevented the censure vote from proceeding.
Speaking of the First Selectman, Camillo chose to lop off $10 million from the capital budget submitted by the BOE to rebuild CMS. This after telling everyone during his budget presentation the story of how, in the 1980s, they tried to do the same to Cos Cob School, and how they were proved wrong. What gives?
Why are Republican leaders insisting on a smaller school?
After months of deliberation and consumption of data, the BOE decided to build a school suited for 660 students. In the coming 8 years, maximum CMS enrollment is predicted to be 511 – the decline tracking with national trends. Looking backwards to 2002, CMS enrollment has averaged 629 with a peak of 730.
So the question is – do we ignore decades of historical data and focus solely on an 8 year projection model, based primarily on birth rates, to build a school to serve our Town for decades to come? When an influx of new families messes with the math, problems arise. Just this year, Greenwich Public Schools’ (GPS) kindergarten enrollment was 10% above the prediction due to deficiencies with that model.
Just ponder some of the unknown variables that can impact enrollment in 20 years.
For instance there is a 30-unit construction underway on Milbank Avenue and a proposed 105-unit project near Greenwich Library – both are in the CMS district. Additionally, multiple BOE members have noted it might be desirable to have flexibility to relieve some crowding at the other two Town middle schools by offering a magnet program to CMS. And what if another of our school buildings fails, necessitating dispersement of students elsewhere? It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.
Private school families who are currently seeing a CMS building that was deemed ‘unfit for human occupancy’ in February 2022 may rethink spending $40K per year per child on private school tuition when they see CMS reincarnated as a state-of-the-art building.
“Hey kids, it’s 9:45 – time for lunch!”
Undersizing our new middle school could mean that the first lunch period for 12-year-olds would start at 9:45 am, that teachers would need to share and repurpose classrooms, that students would need to work on collaborative projects in noisy hallways, and our Town legislative body, the RTM, would be forced to scramble for another home for their monthly meetings. That is all short sighted and a disservice to our students, teachers, and community.
Despite the sideshow, the Building Committee is making steady progress. Last month they hired an architect to start the design phase and are working on an estimated schedule to commence building in June 2024 and open the new school August 2026. For those families who will be at CMS during the construction phase, don’t panic – the plan is to site the new building behind the existing school, so that students will not need to be relocated during the project.
What you can do.
Speak up for future CMS students. The tussle over the CMS project budget has just begun. The CMS Building Committee will be hosting community engagement sessions in March and April. The Republican-controlled BET will be making final budgetary decisions in a few weeks.
If the BET does not adequately fund this capital project, construction will be delayed. Watch the BET Budget Committee meetings, plan to speak at the March 29th budget public hearing, and let the BET know what you think now – email@example.com.
And most importantly, vote for all six of the BET Democrats in the November municipal election so Democrats gain the tie-breaking vote and control of the budget. They support our schools.
Call to Action
The Old Greenwich School PTA urges community members to e-mail the Board of Estimate and Taxation this week at BET@greenwichct.org asking that they fund the OGS Renovation Project in the 2023/2024 Budget. For more information, click here.
Congratulations to Congressman Jim Himes, who was named as the lead Democrat of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Himes’ priorities are continuing to support Ukraine in its battle to preserve democracy against Russian aggression, and navigating the rising tensions between the U.S. and China.
Winston Robinson, a longtime member of the GDTC, will be sorely missed. Among his many contributions to our Town, Winston served as president of the Greenwich NAACP and on the boards of Barbara’s House (formerly Community Centers Inc.), the Town’s Human Services Department, the First Selectman’s Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee and the Boy Scouts of America. Winston had also worked with the Red Cross board, the Transportation Association of Greenwich, the Greenwich Scholarship Association and the United Way Planning Council.
A service will be held on Saturday, February 18 at 11 am at Bethel AME Church on Lake Avenue, near Greenwich Hospital.
Editorials that caught our eye
Two recent editorials continue to shine a light on the disturbing activities of the new Republican Town Committee. Ryan Oca shares social media posts by RTC chair Beth MacGillivray claiming that President Biden “groomed” his wife, accusing Dr. Anthony Fauci of trafficking in fetal organs, and saying the January 6 insurrection was just a protest.
Greenwich Time editor John Breunig, describes how this new RTC successfully persuaded First Selectman Camillo to hold off on signing legislation to accept a grant to improve our election infrastructure. “Election denial still hovers over fractured Greenwich GOP.”
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