Staples High School Expansion Plans Released

The “new” Staples High School is already a decade old. Ten years after opening, the 3-story building still looks fresh.

But the school population has risen. It’s now nearly 1,900 — 100 students over the 1,800 it was planned for. Projections — based on demographic trends, as well as housing starts and the addition of multi-family housing in Westport — show enrollments of 1,900 or so students for at least the next several years.

Staples High School now has 1900 students.

Staples High School now has 1900 students.

With those figures in mind — and current and future advances in areas like science, technology, art, engineering, math, robotics, 3D modeling, social studies and world languages, as well as increased state graduation credit requirements — superintendent of schools Elliott Landon has released a Facility Planning Study.

The 43-page document is based on work by Fuller & D’Angelo (the architects of record for the 2005 addition/renovation), ASW Engineers and CPS Cost Estimators.

The informational guide — conceptual in nature — offers 3 potential building additions. The unanimous recommendation of all parties was a single-level scheme. It provides a 2-story engineering and robotics lab on the southeast corner (near the current horticulture garden); another 2-story conference space opposite it, then more classrooms and auxiliary spaces connected to current corridors and the cafeteria area, toward the gym. This creates a new circulation loop eastward (by the back parking lot) of the current library.

Three views of the proposed expansion of Staples High School. The new construction -- shown in white -- would be on the easternmost part of the current building, from the current horticulture class garden northward toward the cafeteria.

Three views of the proposed expansion of Staples High School. The new construction — shown in white — would be on the easternmost part of the current building, from the current horticulture class garden northward toward the cafeteria and gym.

The cost estimate totals $21.2 million. State reimbursement could return $2 million to the town.

The plan is of course in the early stages. Public input — plus many rounds of commission meetings, beginning with the Board of Education on Monday night — lie ahead.

51 responses to “Staples High School Expansion Plans Released

  1. Isn’t this “conspicuous consumption” — planning a new $20+ million addition just ten years after a $70+ million renovation was completed? Where else in the world are public buildings renovated on a 10 year cycle? Certainly our cash-strapped state should not be asked to chip in a $2 million contribution when tax increases are forcing employers to move elsewhere. And if the town itself really has all this extra money to burn, why not use it to sponsor/renovate/improve a school in Bridgeport, where investment in education is so sorely needed?

    • Let me answer my own question: one other place in the world where public buildings are recycled on this breakneck schedule is the college/university campus. No surprise that college costs have risen at more than twice the rate of inflation for decades.

  2. $21,000,000 because of 100 extra students?. It would be less expensive to send the extra students to private schools.

  3. Mary Ruggiero

    Westport has long been the beneficiary of good to great financial planning. This project would be a huge exception to that benefit.

  4. Westport schools have a great reputation and more residential building has brought more families to town. However, why does the need for more classroom space mean that we add the engineering and robotics lab? Seems to me that the cost of a $21,000,000 building could be a lot less if just classrooms were added.

  5. Bart Shuldman

    Probbaly best to state the facts and then debate the project—a recent response to a WestportNow article by Paul Block, member of BofE, provided us the following regarding how many students are and have been attending Staples since 2012:

    In 10/1/2012 SHS had actual enrollment of 1,882 students
    In 10/1/2013 SHS had actual enrollment of 1,837 students
    In 10/1/2014 SHS had actual enrollment of 1,855 students
    In 10/1/2015 SHA was forecasted to have enrollment of 1,888
    Source: Board of Education Adopted Budget

    What would be helpful next is to get the facts and numbers regarding how many students are in our elementary and middle schools to determine if the average of 1,865 Staples students will increase or decrease.

    This project will take years to finish and if we will eventually see that a decline in Staples population is coming, then spending $21 million should be clealry criticized. If the enrollment will somehow eclipse the current avergae, then the residents can see understand the issue and decide what to do.

  6. don bergmann

    This is an important topic, one that will generate much discussion, controversy and lots of thoughts. I have my views, but will hold off for now. One thing that will be of importance to me is the objectivity of the analysis. Don Bergmann

  7. Sherri Wolfgang-Peyser

    I do remember in the 70s’s when the student population in Westport went “down” and Westport Board of Ed closed Hillspoint School and Saugatuck School. Now a preschool and senior housing.

    All this expansion for 100 students over a decade does not make sense.

  8. Really? another horribly planned proposal that is about as sensible as the proposed library expansion.

  9. Bart Shuldman

    I guess we spent $20K of tax payer money to complete this study, without knowing if we truly need the extra space. Is anyone else suprised we spent the money without knowing we needed this study?

    Do we rally need the space is anpother issue, let me explain.

    In the orginal WestportNow article–this is what was written:

    ‘Conversely, he (Dr. Landon) said the lower grades are showing declines as fewer families with young children have the financial ability to buy homes in Westport.’

    Is this a trend or a sign that student population will decline over the years? In part of the article, they mentioned families moving into town with older children. Do we have facts to back that up? Can we at least understand what the next 5-7 years looks like in student poluation? Since Staples population has been very steady for 4 years, it conflicts with the statement that more high school age children are moving to town.

    If the BofE belvies we need space for 100 more students, the proposal will cost $210,000 ($21,000,000/100 students) per student PLUS about $20,000-$30,000 per student per year to educate them. That is our yearly cost per student in Westport. Amortizing the loan to build the building and adding in the yearly cost, the town education budet could increase by a minimum of $4,600,000+ a year. And thats without the typical increases that have been required every year.

    As we talk about the costs in Westport that our seniors experience, this town now has the Downtown Committee looking at spendng money (180 page document) at who knows what incremental cost to taxparers, and now this. We could not build enough senior housing to help them out.

    I truly hope we debate this school project and understand if we really need this addtion. It could create addtional serious tax issues for our seniors and those that cannot afford higher taxes.

    Finally, its interesting to see all these potential new cost programs in Westport-how quickly we forgot about the great recession.

  10. The article I read said that because of higher real estate prices, younger families with younger children are not moving to Westport because they are not able to afford it. If that is the case and is a continuing trend, then shouldn’t the student body numbers decrease back to that 1,800 student capacity figure within 10 years?

    If those numbers are accurate then a $21,000,000.00 expansion doesn’t really compute does it? Is the assumption that as those children age into high achoolers that those families will then move to Westport?

    I’m all for dumping money into education but just show me exactly why its needed in this case.

  11. Stephanie Bass

    This is Dr. Landon’s last present. Was I asleep, because this is the 1st time I’m hearing about this. And when in the history of the world — our world — has a project come in on budget? And doesn’t our library and that new business in town replicate a good deal of the new technology we “need” in the high school?

    Hey, and this is just my initial reaction….

  12. P.S. How much did we pay for this plan?

  13. When I look around town, I see a lot of old homes being torn down and much much larger homes being put up in their place. Presumably, these new homes will pay a larger amount of property taxes and will likely have children that will attend the schools. So, it’s probably a bit of oversimplification, but the larger homes mean more taxes paid, mean more kids and therefore the more taxes paid to afford expansion of a larger, top notch school – the kind expected by the people who are now occupying the larger newer high tax paying homes. The highly ranked school keeps the property values high and therefore protects the investment in the new, gargantuan houses.

    That seems to be the Westport math.

  14. Mary Ruggiero

    Westport already has that top notch school after being basically rebuilt ten years ago at a cost of 90 million. This proposed expansion will cost more than 1/4 or that. This study sounds more like a wish list of facilities than the result of a study to address a POSSIBLE increase in the student population of about 1/20. The fractions don’t add up! And we haven’t even started to discuss the increase in staff and those attendant costs!

  15. Bart Shuldman

    While we have seen the Grand List increase, which notates to growing value of our homes and real estate and used for tax calculations, let’s remember our property taxes still went up. Despite the Y going from a building paying no taxes into one that does, the changes of small houses to big, taxes needed to increase to pay for the increase in school budget.

    Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner have done a great job holding back town cost increase and changing from pensions to 401k plans. But overall, the budget increased and we now pay higher property taxes.

    There is little to doubt this will not stop. Our education budget increases every year. Our town budget needs to increase as most are
    Employee costs and benefits which go up.

    The increase in the Grand List just helps to offset these increases. If the Staples project goes thru expect even bigger tax increases despite the changes to homes and buildings in town.

  16. Dividing the number of additional students by the project cost is an oversimplification.
    There are perhaps some other considerations. John Dodig once mentioned at a parent coffee that one of the challenges he faced in adding to the curriculum (Engineering, robotics, advanced math, etc.) is that SHS is operating at over 95% utilization rate. Adding an additional section of a math class, a new engineering class, etc. requires a classroom which isn’t currently available. An increased student population just adds to the challenge.

    With regard to the Engineering and Robots, that curriculum requires dedicated facilities that are not presently available at SHS. It is likely that creating a new space for that purpose would also be utilized in afternoons, nights, weekends, and the summer and serve students in both the middle and high school. So that facility would serve many more than just the additional 100 students.
    Perhaps some of those directly involved in the many robotics programs in town can weigh in on the number of students who would likely make use of this proposed expansion and the need for a dedicated facility.

    No doubt others can reflect on the cost/benefit of adding engineering and robotics to the curriculum and that can be part of the discussion here.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Jeff. As a business leader in technology I would be pleased to see Staples more in STEM type classes. It could potentially excite more to study engineering or computer science, as we do not graduate enough from college to meet our demand. And the job market is wonderful.

      This all, however, needs to be discussed around the demand on Staples. What if the number of students drop in 5 years. By the time the building is complete we might have extra space. Can we re-purpose other parts of Staples to help focus on STEM. We already have a great math curriculum. So what is really needed? Does it truly take $21 million?

      I am researching how much debt Westport has and when it retires? Is the $21 million incremental or does it just replace debt that is being paid off. Or do we need more money for our other schools to improve the facilities.

      A better approach would be for the BofE to put a whole presentation together so we understand this all.

      I personally would have rather seen Dr Landon speak to our decision to build a better STEM program and continue to make Staples great. Trying to convince us to spend $21 million for maybe 50 extra students, remember we are
      Already averaging 1,865 students, seems ridiculous. But focusing on a better STEM program and whatever they think they need, and presenting it seems to be a better approach.

      JMHO.

  17. Nancy W Hunter

    Wow! It should be re-named “Staples University”!

  18. Bart Shuldman

    Here are more facts to consider:

    At the end of fiscal 2014 Westports’s total principal on the debt debt was $121,612,981 and interest payments are $23,269,376 with total Westprt obligation just on our debt=$144,882,357. The total debt broken down as follows:

    Town $18,937,596
    Sewer $26,169,565
    School $76,505,820

    Sewer debt is paid by assessments on sewer users not from general property taxes.

    Town and School debt is paid from property taxes. The school debt matures as late as 2033. All of it is paid in installments over its maturity For 2016, the budget calls for School debt payments of about $9.2 million in principal and $2.7 million in interest. For 2015, the numbers were about $9 million in principal and $3 million in interest.

    Remember, Westport also has over $125,000,000 in pension plan and OPEB obligations on top of this debt.

  19. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Maybe the Robotics Lab and the additional computer science courses could be conducted on the internet. No additional space needed. Problem solved.

  20. It seems as if the desire and/or need for a robotics and engineering lab is the driving force here rather than an overcrowded school. And, if that’s the case, perhaps one approach would be to create a naming opportunity and seek a donor–an alum or area resident–to put up the money for the lab. My college alma mater has, like a number of others, been successfully doing this for years and I don’t see why Staples and the Board of Ed couldn’t consider this possibility. An alum who has had success in the tech field might especially embrace this, particularly if it were a facility that might be made available to kids in surrounding towns/cities.

  21. Elisabeth Keane

    Why can’t an extra desk or work station or two be added to classrooms for the next few years?

  22. Although I am now retired, I still live in Westport and don’t plan to move for a while. I will not add my two cents to this proposal at this time but only ask that all those who are concerned and now know of the proposal focus on what the space would be used for rather than on the number of students enrolled at Staples. Given the quality of the students who attend SHS and what they can accomplish given the proper facilities, we should be discussing whether or not to provide those experiences or not. In my opinion, we could be the beacon public high school in America for robotics education if we had a top notch facility. We certainly have the students with those interests and parents who support it. My prediction, if such a facility were to be built, is that people from all over the world would move here to send their kids to Staples. It is not only robotics, however, we need a dance facility, an aerobics facility, some swing space for teachers to bring classes together to share various curricula at the same time to show their connections. Teachers should not have to sign up for such a space weeks in advance. There is so much more that could be done with our wonderful students if the facility were expanded. Generations ago, we bought a type writer and used it for decades. Now we buy a computer for word processing only to replace that machine with something more modern, faster, and more efficient every two or three years. Change is on the run.

    • Deb Rosenfield

      “. My prediction, if such a facility were to be built, is that people from all over the world would move here to send their kids to Staples”

      If you really feel this way, then perhaps gearing for 1900 students is not enough. Maybe 2200. Or 2800. And with only about 9000 homes in Westport, we might have to annex Weston just for housing requirements.

      On a serious note, what I might agree with would be a magnet school focusing on Math and Science (STEM), the cost of which, perhaps, could be shared with surrounding towns. And, it wouldn’t have to be a retrofit to Staples. It should be a freestanding, dedicated building somewhere else, either in Westport or one of the surrounding towns. Our kids have enough to deal with without construction getting in the way of education. Last, the 100 or so kids from Westport who might elect to go to such a school would then reduce the current enrollment enough such that there would be no need to expand Staples yet again. Just a thought.

  23. Exciting educationally. And a great deal for families with children moving in. A million dollar house might be taxed $15,000, less than the amount Westport spends on one student per year, and therefore a great tuition deal for a multi kid family.

  24. So much money for students that just moved here and will move away in three years. Why can’t we spend a fraction of that for a Senior Housing Facility for people who have spent their lives here and want to stay here…..Oh I know… Westport does not really want a Senior Housing Facility here.

  25. I like the Staples we have just fine and I do not think we need to increase our tax base anymore with such splendor. Repurpose and reuse and save some landfill space for senior housing or something. Enough of the Landon follies. He is out and someone else with more common sense hopefully will take over and implement some reason!

  26. Bart Shuldman

    John—thanks for your post. At least you are willing to be honest and tell us the expansion is not about more students at Staples. And if you read the Planning Study that is referenced, Staples population averages 1,888 students till 2021, just a few more than what we have today.

    Westport now has 5 projects that are being discussed; each will cause costs and taxes to rise in Westport. Which one or ‘ones’ should we do? All of them? What are the total projected costs to Westporters? As we talk about the issues seniors are having staying in Westport what will be the impact on them?
    These new spending proposals are:
    1. Downtown plan
    2. Expansion of Staples
    3. Compo
    4. Senior housing/recreation.
    5. Library

    Westport residents also have to remember we are funding our unfunded OPEB liability, which cost us about $6.4 million in 2015. That will increase by about 3% over each over the next 22 years based on our amortization method – more if costs increase faster than anticipated.

    We owe about $400 million to our town employees for both pensions and OPEB. Westport has assets of about $300 million as of FY 2015 year end. Westport needs to earn about $18.375 million investment returns (increasing as our funds increase) to avoid negative budget impact (taxes will have to rise to make it up) – something to think about given the market volatility of late.
    And the town debt is approximately $120 million.

    So what does our town do? We have rising costs due to past obligations and now 5 new major projects being proposed. Hopefully the town will get togehter and begin discusiing all these projects against the merits, the costs and the impact to the taxpayers.

  27. The latest news—The BofE was suprised with the outcome of the study, they thought the study would propse different ways to handle the extra ‘100’ students and it appears were not expecting plans for a big explansion with a big price.

    Makes you want to think, what did our proposal request of the consultants? How did it emorph into such a huge outcome?

    In reading the latest article, it said the conultant ‘focused on the school administrations…recommeneded Concept B’ which is the the big expnasion plan. Who are the school adminstrators they reference? And did our BofE not know this was going on?

    In addtion, everyone should know the Staples population in the out years of the report are not done by a consultant or by calcuation–they are listed as ‘Landons’ numbers.

    Somehow we spent $20,000 of taxpayer money and did not know what the outcome would be? What were they requesting in whatever document we gave to the consultants? Seems a bit hard to swallow.

    As we know, the BofE members donate their time and I thank them. I am glad to see they are taking notice of this proposed project, the cost and concerns it presents the town.

    • Deb Rosenfield

      Great question, Bart. Would be interesting to see the request for proposal. It was indeed curious that Concept A didn’t seem to “fit” anything.

      Glad to see the BOE asked the right questions. One cannot help but wonder about the approval process for a $20000 consultation when the town/education budget is so tight. Hopefully, no more money is spent to clarify or redo the proposal before we have a better idea of the fundamental needs, if there are any. Or, at least, the BOE should be able to approve any expenditures for future planning.

    • http://www.westportnow.com/index.php?/v2_5/comments/westport_schools_looking_back_and_ahead/

      This public letter from the Board of Education makes no mention of expansion plans for Staples. Also, there does not seem to be a mention of a request for a study in the BoE minutes or agenda.

  28. I must confess (and how often will I say this?) that I chuckled at Michael’s brief, if spot-on, post. Not just benefiting from an education (if you always lived here) but also benefiting from increasing property values over the years.

    BUT $21 million is real money. It is not easy to grasp why we would need to spend that much money for something that was not foreseen when this thing was just rebuilt/renovated. We should consider whether that money (at least in annualized terms) could either be better spent on other things for our residents or better left in the pockets of the taxpayers.

    I don’t know if this is a good idea or not – but we do tend to mistake “wants” for “needs” in Westport. I’m still not clear if it is about increased enrollment (a “need” that would need to be dealt with one way or another) or a robotics lab (a “want”). And I’m with Bart – how could you be “surprised” by such a specific recommendation that goes so far beyond needing to accommodate 100 more students than planned?

    Was this just a $20,000 trial balloon?

    • Chris. You are spot on. And there is clearly something wrong here. I think we need to hear from the BofE how this all happened without telling the taxpayers they were starting this project.

      If you look at the report it mentions those involved. The principal knew this was going in and so did Landon. Why was it kept from the residents? Once again we have the administration spending our money without our knowledge. And this time it appears the BofE knew all about it.

      And now we are made to believe the BofE was surprised by the outcome of a proposal they approved? Really?

      Remember, Landon started this all in an article that spoke to the need to expand due to too many students. Then we have the principal supporting the project for a total different reason and now we have the Board saying they were surprised by the outcome of the proposal.

  29. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    I’m curious to know what high schools, state or national, Westport is competing with, and why such competition? Both a need and a want.

  30. I do not know how mnay people are following this story on 06880–but please share the following with your Westport friends and neighbors–you will learn that Westport has the highest spending per taxpayer against EVERY town in CT–including our neighbors. We have a spending issue in Westport–as we spend more per taxpayer than Weston, Wilton, new Canaan, Darien–everyone.

    A recent report, which is included below, I believe, will shock you that Westport is the worst—we spend the most per person (taxpayer). We are Number 1—spending over $7,000 per person (taxpayer) in town. Comparing that to Hartford who spends $4,265 per person. We outrank all our neighboring towns, as you will read in the report.

    With all the new spending programes being proposed, we will continue to lead the state. Our past admistartions that led Westport left us in a real mess and now there is a report to allow you to review our spending versus our neighboring towns.

    Nearly 12% of our town budget is spent for town employee pension and healthcare and OPEB (other post employee benefits). This compares to 5% for Wilton, 2.6% for Darien and 1.37% for New Canaan. Westport spends twice the average comparing to the other towns in CT.

    Another figure that will help understand what is going on, 63 Westport taxpayers support each retired town worker receiving benefits. The number is 125 taxpayers per retired person in Darien. Our benefits are the most lucrative compared to the other towns—we allow our municipal workers to retire at age 55 with 10 years of continuous service, as an example. This very generous benefit allows the municipal worker to retire earlier and get more benefits, compared to the all towns in CT and compared to our neighboring towns.

    The other interesting part of this report is how we compare to other towns in CT and our neighboring towns regarding how we spend for education. Comparing our spending to New Canaan, Darien and Wilton, Darien spends the least while New Canaan spends the most. We spend just $340 less per student than New Canaan and more than $1,200 for Darien per student. One glaring static is how we spend for ‘non-certified’ staff—our administrators and support staff. Darien has about half the non-certified staff than Westport and Westport pays $49,255.50 per paraprofessional. New Canaan as a comparison pays $34,604.94. However, Dairen pays the most, but again, has the least amount.

    As the report concludes, Westport is spending the most per taxpayers in CT which includes our neighboring towns. Just comparing Westport to Darien, Westport spends $1,204 more per taxpayer.

    While we debate all the new projects and now the Staples program, Westport residents should know we spend the most in CT. If we want our housing prices to remain competitive to the other towns around us, we better be careful about our spending and the corresponding higher taxes. I cannot say we are much better than our neighboring towns such as Wilton, New Canaan or Darien.

    Here is the report:

    https://www.facebook.com/YankeeInstitute/posts/10153608724178064:0

    • I have a question: The recent presentation to the BoE regarding a proposed expansion of Staples was made by architect and Westport resident Joseph Fuller. Mr. Fuller appears to have had a hand in producing the report at issue. Mr. Fuller’s firm, Fuller & D’Angelo, was the architect of record for the 2005 Staples construction project. Mr. Fuller is also currently a political appointee in the Marpe administration, serving as Chair of the Maintenance Study Committee. I’m certainly not accusing anybody of anything as I do not claim to know all the facts, but just at first blush does this not, at the very least, present the appearance of a possible conflict of interest?

      • The question is not Jim Marpe’s relationship with Fuller as the BofE controls their own budget. In addition, we still do not know what Fuller was asked to do. And we know that the latest story is Fuller was given direction by the administration-meaning Dr Landon. If you want to point any finger-you have a huge target called Landon. He has been misleading from the start-saying this is all about overcrowding at Staples, when in fact the student population does not change much from 2011 till 2022.

        Somehow Fuller was given direction to pursue Option B–the $21 million package and it appears from statements made that direction came from Landon.

        The other issue is the spending of $20K TO DO the study when it appears the residents were not informed. While we continue to hear from the BofE how they need more money in the budget, we find they allow this kind of spending. Somehow they need to be held accountable.

        Jim Marpe inherited a mess in Westport. We have the most lucrative benefit plans in the state and huge obligations that soak up 12% of the budget. Westporters get no service or anything for the first 12% we need to collect from taxpayers. The worst in our area. Jim has been able to get employees off pensions and onto 401K plans to help alleviate the issue.

        Yet while Jim controls the costs he can, and has no control over the line items in the BofE budget, the BofE spends $20k on this so called proposal.

      • Werner liepolt

        The report as provided is truncated it refers to appendixes with minutes concerning meetings with stakeholders, but there are no appendixes in the version available online. FOI?

  31. I am not at all surprised that Westport leads the list (though, thought Greenwich would), simply because of the ultra competitive thinking and because the money is there, waiting to be spent.