The Board of Education on Monday moved toward forming a new subcommittee that will be charged with researching and making recommendations about a future location for New Canaan Public Schools’ offices.
Composed of three or more school board members, the ‘BOE Headquarters Special Committee’ will work with architects and builders, investigate the needs and uses of similar “high performing district” BOE headquarters and “review past facilities studies performed for the New Canaan Public Schools,” according to a description that the Board of Ed reviewed at its regular meeting on Monday night.
School board member Brendan Hayes said that as municipal officials think about what to do with town-owned buildings “and the number of possible locations of the Board of Ed, it makes a ton of sense for us to study it and really outline for the town as far as space goes and the type of space and access and things like that.”
“And really work with town collaboratively to make sure that if there is an opportunity to save money through relocating the Board of Ed offices that we take that opportunity,” Hayes said during the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
It isn’t clear which board members will serve on the committee. The Board of Ed read through a description and Chair Dionna Carlson said the group could take up a formal vote to form the committee at its next meeting. The committee would dissolve after making its recommendation to the full board, according to the description.
Its formation comes during a contentious budget season, after the Board of Finance approved an operating budget for the district of $89.7 million, $900,000 less than requested, and the Town Council now weighs whether to preserve that figure or further reduce it.
Part of the overall $150.9 million budget forwarded to the legislative body by the finance board also includes a $500,000 line item for a renovation of the Police Department (see page 61 here) that, ostensibly, is designed to prepare the upper floor of that South Avenue building for the Board of Ed.
A selectmen-appointed committee in December recommended that the town form a task force to take a examine various options for the Board of Ed, which now leases space in a privately owned building, and determine the feasibility of moving the district to a town-owned facility from a cost perspective.
In presenting their report to the town, the co-chairs of the Town Building Evaluation and Use Committee had said it makes sense to find outhow much it would cost the town to renovate the second floor of Waveny House—the committee’s preferred location for the Board of Ed compared with the main house at Irwin—in order to make the space suitable for administrative offices. (Questions regarding the future use of Waveny House and Irwin House are expected to be major topics at an April 26 forum on public buildings, sponsored by the Town of New Canaan, New Canaan Historical Society, New Canaan Preservation Alliance and NewCanaanite.com.)
Dr. Bryan Luizzi at Monday’s meeting noted that there’s a saying about falling “in love with a problem, not a solution.”
“I always worry about committing to a solution without fully understanding the problem,” he said. “So I think this government structure will allow the board to really understand the complexity of the question and be able to make a well informed recommendation to the board about what would be a next good step.”
Board of Ed member Tom Cronin asked whether anyone outside the board would be on the committee. Carlson said no, it’s strictly a committee of the board.
“These people would obviously be natural fit to work with any town committee, but I think the whole intent is for us to understand what we are looking for as a board,” she said.