Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi on Thursday told officials that the school administration is open to the idea of relocating its offices from leased commercial space on Locust Street to Waveny House, Irwin Park or possibly another town-owned facility, provided that the space is configured properly for administrative offices.
Luizzi told members of the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee during a special meeting that although the town paid to have the current Board of Education offices renovated about a year and half ago and that he and his staff are very happy with those renovations, “we are not tied to any physical location.”
“But it is important that wherever we are, it is structured to facilitate the work that we have to do,” Luizzi said at the meeting, held in Town Hall.
He added that although Waveny park and Irwin Park “are the most beautiful places on Earth … it is about the work for us.”
“We are open to that discussion … but we need to discuss what the structure would look like, what it would be,” Luizzi said. “I have a concern… or at least I’ve seen … places that aren’t purposely designed for the work, where it looks like everyone is working out of a home office. And as the New Canaan Board of Education, I feel that the professional piece is important for us.”
Should the idea of relocating the school administration gain traction (for now it is just an idea for discussion, not a formal proposal), Luizzi said the main thing the town will need to consider is how much it would cost to renovate Waveny House in order to properly accommodate the Board of Education offices—and whether the cost of such renovations might exceed the cost of new construction elsewhere in town.
“We were able to renovate the central office space about a year and half ago at no additional cost—because the renovations themselves enabled us to eliminate a support position, which actually resulted in a savings,” Luizzi said. “But again, we’re not wedded to any particular spot.”
Looking at the positives, Luizzi acknowledged that Waveny House is “central to the schools” with “three of the five schools in walking distance.”
But the building, he said “has its limitations.” The idea for now is that the Board of Education offices would occupy the second and third floors of Waveny House, which total about 20,000 square feet, and leave the ground floor the way it is as a space for events.
“Having two floors can be problematic sometimes, in terms of communications,” Luizzi said. “[Currently], we have curriculum and special education on the second floor, and then HR, finance and me on the third floor.”
Luizzi added, however, that having operations on two floors “is not a deal breaker. “
“Every space has it’s limitations,” he said. “There’s nothing magical about [the current location] that can’t be replicated.”
However, he expressed concern that due to the age of Waveny House, it might be difficult or costly to reconfigure spaces so that they meet the administration’s current needs. He indicated that it would be disruptive for the administrative staff to have to leave its current space.
“You see the improvement in productivity just based on the renovations that we did a year and half ago,” Luizzi said. “There is a team feeling to it—there is a collaborative nature to the work—that you will lose if you start to pigeonhole departments into smaller separate spaces again.”
Offering a potential solution to the problem of how to fund renovations, committee co-chair Amy Murphy Carroll said “the lease expense is just under $300,000 [per year] for the BOE [offices] and about another $30,000 for the Launch program.”
“That much lease expense can support approximately $5 million in [municipal] debt,” she said. “So, it could be a wash. That’s at a 3 percent interest rate; 20-year amortization, net-level principal. From a schools perspective, that gives you a lot of flexibility to design what you need to do your work… and from a town perceptive, it could be no-cost… because it eliminates the escalation expense.”
Luizzi says the school administration is currently in the second year of a 10-year lease—but the lease states that it can terminate within a year’s notice provided that it is moving to a town-owned facility.
“This gives us a lot of flexibility to try to figure out what works best,” Carroll said. “Because I know that sometimes when you retrofit an old building you don’t always get what you need – and here I’m thinking about the police station, which is struggling to operate in an old school. But it seems to me that we should at least investigate where this could go…”
Committee co-chair Penny Young later pointed out that the town successfully renovated its old Town Hall into a more functional facility.
Carroll, reiterating a point earlier made by committee member Martin Skrelunas, told Luizzi that moving the BOE offices to Waveny puts it “into one of the town’s crown jewels” and makes it part of a “school campus,” whereas, currently, “you’re kind of hidden—no one knows where you are.”
Young pointed out that firm KSQ Architects conducted a study of Waveny House a few years ago and came up with a figure of about $16 million to renovate the building. “So you’re looking at some significant work in that building – and then on top of that, are you force-fitting something into that space?”
Luizzi and the committee only briefly discussed the possible use of the house at Irwin Park as a location for the BOE offices—however, it was largely agreed that Waveny presents a better option, as the house at Irwin only offers about 7,500 square feet—not quite enough, Young said, the meet the BOE’s needs.
The committee members spent some time discussing whether they should recommend Waveny House over Irwin when they present their report to the Board of Selectmen later this month. It was agreed that they would not recommend one over the other but that they would recommend that the town conduct a feasibility study to determine the viability of relocating the BOE offices to Waveny House.
At a previous meeting, the committee members had said that their report would be crafted in such a way so as to present the town with “options,” not “recommendations,” for how to make more efficient use of more than 40 town buildings.
However, at Thursday’s meeting, Young clarified that the committee is to present the Board of Selectmen with recommendations.
“We are charged with making recommendations,” she told her fellow committee members. “I have the emails from Rob Mallozzi and the Board of Selectmen is expecting recommendations based on our observations.”