Building Committee takes first look at school locations in Cheshire 

CHESHIRE — The School Building Committee met three times in December 2022, foreshadowing a busy 2023 for the group responsible for overseeing the building of two new elementary schools in town.

The group’s initial meeting of Dec. 5 saw new members sworn in and briefed by Town Attorney Jeffrey Donofrio about some of the legal aspects of their duties. On Dec. 14, the group made a visit to the two properties where the new buildings are slated for construction.

The first stop was the undeveloped parcel of land once owned by the Casertano family, located at Marion Road and Jarvis Street.

Members of the committee were joined by ex-officio members School Superintendent Jeff Solan and Town Manager Sean Kimball, along with Town Planner Michael Glidden.

Questions about existing sewer, electric, water, and gas lines were briefly discussed, as were wetlands and existing trees forming natural boundaries around the proposed site. It was suggested that these features could be integrated into any design to the extent it is feasible.

As Solan put it, “I think the more trees we could keep, the nicer it is,” but he added that the committee would have to work that through with the architect.

At Norton School, 414 North Brooksvale Road, committee members discussed some of the logistical issues that will face the development. The construction site, it was suggested, will not be accessed via North Brooksvale Road, but rather by a right of way from Sharon Drive.

The current plan calls for the new school to be constructed on existing fields, while the current Norton building will be demolished after the project is complete. Solan acknowledged that construction work would impact the neighbors, but he said steps will be taken to minimize and mitigate that.

Ever the educator, Solan also remarked that the temporary construction wall could have “some visibility so that kids can see what’s happening. It would be kind of a neat learning experience for them.”

The group agreed that getting an in-person look at the sites was beneficial.

Committee Member Denis Rioux, an architect himself, commented toward the end of the visit that, “Looking at the two properties, they’re so different and they have unique challenges. That could lead me towards two architects instead of just one. It’s not the same project.”

Solan agreed, saying, “You couldn’t design one building and drop it on the properties.”

As to the possibility of having one firm design both, Rioux quipped, “If we do one firm with two teams, they’ll deliver both late.”

The committee got together again for a meeting on Dec. 19, where all members were in attendance along with Donofrio and District Chief Operating Officer Vincent Masciana.

The first order of business was selecting leadership and Richard Gusenberg was selected as chair, Gregory Rosenblatt as vice chair and Sarah Stevens-Morling as secretary.

The meeting then moved to the task of developing the Requests for Qualifications (RFQs) for architecture and construction services. Donofrio provided draft versions to the committee and most of the rest of the meeting was dedicated to going through those line by line and page by page.

Owner’s rep

Most of the changes to the language in the draft were minor corrections or clarifications, but questions for further discussion did arise, including the issue of whether to hire an owner’s representative.

Donofrio recommended that an owner’s representative be on site for when problems arise.

“There’s defective work that gets accepted by the design team and the CM (Construction Manager). There’s lack of coordination between trades. There’s out of sequence work. There’s all kinds of things that happen where you need the owner’s rep to advise you, and if the owner’s rep isn’t present in the field and doesn’t know these things are going on, the advice is pretty much useless,” Donofrio cautioned.

He added that, while having an owner’s rep for school projects isn’t currently the law in Connecticut, unlike in some other states, “the owner’s rep concept is finally being somewhat embraced by OSCGR (Office of School Construction Grants & Review),” in order to help school building committees composed of volunteers — especially those who may have less experience than Cheshire’s has — to navigate the technical details of the construction process.

The committee developed a preliminary timeline for the first quarter of 2023. Among these provisional dates was Jan. 9 for the release of the first RFQ.

A meeting schedule was approved as well. The School Building Committee will have regular public meetings on the second and the fourth Thursdays of each month, and a public comment opportunity is likely to appear on the agenda for next month’s meeting.


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