It’s been nearly 3 months since Coleytown Middle School reopened.
The “new” school has earned rave reviews. Bright! Modern! No mold!
Of course, a few tweaks continued after students and staff returned. Don O’Day — the mastermind as chair of the project — reports that the town issued its final Certificate of Occupancy last week.
Welcome to Coleytown!
During spring break, the grounds will be thoroughly raked, top soil will be added and seeding will begin.
The missing “Coleytown Middle School” signs on the roof, in front of the building and the bus loop have been redesigned. They’ll be up hopefully by May.
The gray cement columns in the front will be painted.
And because the new HVAC is both a heating and air conditioning system, there’s no need to wait for an arbitrary date to switch over to AC (as is the case in other schools). Whenever the weather warms up, the classrooms will be cool.
Just like the entire school — finally — is.
Don O’Day in the bright new cafeteria. (Photos/Dan Woog)
In September 2018, Coleytown Middle School closed due to mold.
Today, teachers return. Tomorrow they’ll be joined by students.
The $32 million remediation and renovation project was not easy. The school was in far worse condition than anyone imagined. A global pandemic disrupted both the supply chain and some of the workforce.
But the reopening comes only a couple of months late. And the final cost is right on budget.
The exterior of the “new” Coleytown Middle School.
Staff and students will enjoy an entirely new HVAC system. Every window has been replaced. The exterior cladding is new. The entire property was regraded.
The entry atrium and library are bright and fresh. Science classrooms have been modernized.
Most importantly, for the first time in decades the school will not smell. The dank, musty odors that permeated the building — remembered miserably by generations of Coleytown Colts and their parents — are gone.
A new seal graces the entryway,
The school’s closure — after students reported dizziness and nausea — was first projected to last a month. Sixth and 7th graders were sent to Bedford Middle School; 8th graders headed to Staples High.
But the months stretched on. After educators and other officials considered everything from an entirely new $75 million building to permanent abandonment of the site, a middle ground — renovation — was the solution.
On March 4, 2018 a building committee was formed. The next day, they held their first meeting.
Chair Don O’Day — a former Board of Education head — and members John Broadbin, Jay Keenan, Karen Kleine, Srikanth Puttagunta, Joe Renzulli and Vanessa Valadares went right to work.
They had 3 charges: repair or replace the climate control system; repair or replace the exterior, to prevent water incursion, and regrade the exterior grounds to move water away from the building.
That meant replacing the entire roof, and every window; changing the exterior walls, adding new insulation and metal cladding; installing an all-new heating, cooling and dehumidifying system (and adding air conditioning to the gym), while regrading and installing a French drain outside.
Every window is new — including these large ones in the cafeteria.
The committee hired building engineers Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates; mechanical engineers Kohler Rohan; civil engineers Langan Connecticut; general contractor Newfield Construction, and interior designers CPG Architects.
Susan Chipouras — who earned kudos overseeing previous renovations of Staples and Saugatuck Elementary School — served as project manager.
Another key hire was EnviroMed. The Meriden-based firm industrial hygienist firm identified contaminants, and oversaw a rigorous removal protocol.
All furniture was taken out, cleaned and tested. Items that did not pass were thrown out.
“The school was a lot sicker than we thought,” O’Day says. “There were a number of structural challenges to address.
“We couldn’t just put in a new roof, windows and HVAC. We had to shore up the structure in a far more significant way than we expected. The town finally realized we needed more than just a Band-Aid.”
The renovated school is bright and airy. This is the atrium at the entrance.
O’Day lauds former CMS PTA co-presidents Sue Herrmann and Lee Goldstein for “relentlessly telling anyone who needed to hear that this building was sick, and not an appropriate place for kids or staff.”
Principal Kris Szabo and the custodial staff also worked hard to address all issues.
“The town has sent a clear message: Our children are valued,” O’Day says. “It’s our priority that they attend a school they’re proud of, and that will help them learn in the 21st century.”
The library has been modernized too.
He cited the Boards of Finance and Education, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, principal Szabo and Westport Public Schools director of technology Natalie Carrignan for “making our committee’s job a lot easier. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Now, at last, the new Coleytown Middle School is ready for prime time.
Some teachers have gone in on their own time, to set up their classrooms. They’ll all be on hand today, making sure everything is ready when students return tomorrow.
A world language classroom is ready for students.
It will be like the first day of school for everyone. Current 8th graders spent only 3 weeks in the building before it closed. Seventh and 6th graders have never been inside.
Of course, a few details remain.
Exterior work will continue through February — but only on Wednesdays and weekends, when students are not inside.
Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice’s office is working with the state to obtain reimbursement of up to 20% of eligible spending.
Then there’s one more item to address. The company that created all the handsome new signage spelled one word wrong — every time.
It’s “cafeteria,” not “cafteria.”
Whatever it’s called though, it too looks — and smells — great.
Don O’Day in the cafteria — er, cafeteria. (Photos/Dan Woog)
Don O’Day chairs the Coleytown Middle School Building Committee. For the past 2 years, he has overseen the school’s renovation, after closure due to mold.
Sloan O’Connell-Jamali — parent of 3 boys — writes:
I don’t know Don O’Day personally. But I would like to nominate him for Unsung Hero recognition, as we close out 2020.
Earlier this month he handed off the Coleytown Middle School building to the Board of Education. As my 6th grader excitedly waits to walk through the doors of CMS for the first time on Jan 4, there is no doubt in my mind that we have Don O’Day (and his amazing team) to thank.
He has been the ultimate public servant, volunteering his leadership, time and abilities over the past 2 years to help bring our CMS building back to life.
I can only imagine the countless hours of work, meetings, Zoom calls and spreadsheets he has had to devote to getting this job done — during a pandemic nonetheless.
I am personally grateful to have had his constant Facebook updates, which kept us all in the loop and were totally transparent.
We are so lucky to have someone like Don in our community. His volunteerism is inspiring and he has changed our Westport community for the better.
What an inspired nomination, Sloan — and so true. Don O’Day has truly modeled what it means to juggle the often-competing demands of town officials, school administrators, parents, students and other residents — all while keeping the needs of children front and center.
Thank you, Don. We all look forward to the reopening of Coleytown Middle School early next month. For that, you are absolutely this week’s Unsung Hero!
(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email email@example.com)
The big day is Tuesday. Nearly 6 months after closing — and a week after the original date — students return to Westport schools.
Many things will be different. They’ll attend in shifts: half in classrooms, half studying remotely. Desks will be 6 feet apart. Some hallways will be one-way. And those are just a few of the changes COVID has wrought.
Some youngsters have not even driven past their schools in half a year. To remind them of what they look like, here is a special “Friday Flashback” drone gallery. All images are courtesy of multi-talented and spectacular Staples High School senior Brandon Malin. (Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge.)
To start off, here’s the school he’s headed back to:
Bedford Middle School
Coleytown Middle School (construction project)
Coleytown Elementary School
Greens Farms Elementary School
Kings HIghway Elementary School
Long Lots Elementary School
Saugatuck Elementary School
Bonus feature: Greens Farms Academy (All drone photos/Brandon Malin)
My family and I moved to the area a little over a year ago. We came to town after Coleytown had merged into Bedford.
The town was in a bit of an uproar. Some of our first interactions with neighbors were invitations to sign petitions or accompany them to meetings to speak out against the combined schools.
We respectfully declined the invitations. We were grateful the town had a facility that could absorb the Coleytown students, and honestly, our 7th grader was having an amazingly seamless transition despite the crowded hallways.
Although we were sensitive to other people’s concerns, in the grand scheme of things we really didn’t feel like we had anything to complain about.
Since then, our children’s experiences in the Westport schools have continued to be positive, but the angst swirling around education has certainly not subsided. Between redistricting/split feeder scenarios. budget cuts and the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of Coleytown, residents have not been at a loss for things to complain about.
In the midst of all of it I have witnessed something kind of remarkable.
Rehearsing for “Matilda the Musical.”
My middle son, now in 8th grade, has become very involved in the theater program at Bedford. This year, rather than keeping the 2 school populations separate, they combined all of the resources and created a single student body.
This has been a tremendous benefit to the arts, in my opinion. I think of the combined theater program at Bedford as the “something beautiful” that grew out of the chaos of the past year and a half.
The program that resulted from the collaborative efforts of the Coleytown and Bedford educators is worth talking about. Instead of being overwhelmed by the combined population, they took it as an opportunity to further develop their programs and provide an even more enriching theater arts experience.
They created a tech program that is thriving and enabling students to become skilled in all aspects of production, while supporting an ambitious year of performances across the 3 grades. They even created student directing experiences for 8th graders in support of the 6th grade spring production.
Learning the tools of the theater trade.
The Bedford Theater Company, which is co-led this year by Karen McCormick and Ben Frimmer, with help from Alicia D’Anna, is currently rehearsing for Roald Dahl’s “Matilda the Musical.” There will be 4 performances the weekend of March 27.
Mr. Frimmer assembled an all-star production team of working professionals to help him bring this quirky piece of literature to life. Matilda is the only offering this year that included all 3 grades. If Coleytown reopens on schedule it will be the only time this ever happens.
“Matilda” creates an opportunity to highlight what is possible when a community comes together and makes the most of a situation. The students. educators and professionals have taken this tumultuous moment in Westport’s time and turned it into something to celebrate.
“Matilda the Musical” will be performed at Bedford Middle School the weekend of March 27. (Photos/January Stewart)
“Matilda” is a great example of how the Coleytown crisis actually served to enrich the middle school student experience in Westport. It is fitting that one of the overarching themes of “Matilda” is the idea of standing up in the face of adversity.
Thanks, Amy. You nailed it. This week’s Unsung Heroes are everyone who makes this production of “Matilda the Musical” possible. Click here for tickets and more information. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danielle Dobin is the mother of a Staples High School 9th grader and a Bedford Middle School 6th grader, and vice chair of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission. Like many Westporters, she has followed the debate over the future of our middle schools — begun a year ago, when mold caused the closure of Coleytown — with great interest.
School district officials, the Boards of Education and Finance, and a special committee are moving ahead with plans to renovate CMS, and reopen it next fall. However, Dobin says, that may not be the right move. She writes:
While the closure of Coleytown Middle School has been a challenge for our community, we can turn it into an opportunity. We can create a modern and innovative middle school that delivers excellent education to all students.
Right now, we are on a path to spend $32 million (minimum) to renovate CMS. But many in town question that path. They wonder about the wisdom of revamping a building designed by the standards of 1965. They are beginning to see the demographic challenges of running 2 middle schools with declining enrollment. Most importantly, they are beginning to question the rush to get back into CMS without carefully considering all options.
Coleytown Middle School is closed due to mold. Right now, it is set to reopen next fall.
It’s time to pause, and review all the new data and information at our disposal. It is time to finally have the kind of community conversation a decision of this importance demands.
I want to be clear for those who are only now engaged in this process: When CMS closed, there was no thoughtful discussion — much less a town-wide debate — about what kind of middle school structure would best serve the needs of 21st century education in Westport.
Other important matters like the Downtown Plan and Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Development involved meaningful public outreach and various charettes, surveys and meetings to gauge public opinion. There was nothing like that last year.
Timing (“get CMS back as quickly as possible”) was prioritized over thoughtful consideration of all options available to us. The Board of Education did begin a process to explore options, but this was quickly circumvented. As a result, we did not plan for the future. We simply opted to re-create the past.
So what has changed?
First, let’s recognize that we have time to develop a thoughtful solution. Middle school at Bedford is working well. With the improvements of additional teaching and office spaces, a 9-period day and a merged student population, students are thriving.
We are no longer in the time crunch we thought we were in. We have the flexibility to take the time necessary to decide the best path forward in terms of design, budget and vision.
Bedford Middle School currently houses every 6th, 7th and 8th grader in town.
Second, as is becoming increasingly obvious, our demographics no longer easily support the choice to maintain 2 middle schools. Moreover, the work of the Board of Ed and the many maps circulated by their demographer make clear that while some redistricting plans may create parity in the middle schools in terms of balanced enrollment, it comes at great cost to our elementary schools.
At the elementary school level, these plans create immense disruption. They lead to dramatic under- and over-utilization of various schools. No simple re-balancing solution on the table achieves all of the criteria set forth by the Board of Education.
This was not understood by most residents — or even many elected officials — until quite recently.
Third, the CMS Taskforce under the strong leadership of Don O’Day has done a fine job of researching the cost to repair CMS and managing a complicated process. My call to rethink our path is in no way a criticism of their important work.
In fact, they can concurrently continue their process while as a town we mull whether we want to actually repair CMS.
Construction has not yet begun at CMS, so sunk costs are minimal. Before we decide as a town that we want to spend millions of dollars repairing a circa-1965 building, let’s confirm that the cost will be limited to $32 million.
Let’s also figure out our tipping point. What if the cost to repair is $35 million. What if it’s $45 million?
I propose we take advantage of all the new information, and reconsider the path we are taking. Let’s take a thoughtful look at all the options: continuing on the current path, building a new state-of-the-art middle school, or creating one spectacular unified middle school for the entire district.
One unified middle school campus — with an addition designed in concert with our educators and administrators — has many advantages:
1. Every middle school student will be educated in a modern space, thoughtfully designed for the team-teaching method and reflective of our needs in 2020 and beyond.
2. A unified middle school will drive all our resources to a centralized campus, where our talented educators can collaborate and innovate across grade cohorts and areas of study.
3. A unified middle school will resolve our demographic issues for a long time, without a disruptive redistricting to achieve the optimal balance.
4. We can look as a community to the current CMS site to create a resource for all our schools: a modern computer lab to provide for coding and programming classes, a science lab for our Science Olympians, and indoor fields for our athletes. We can dream big.
The Planning & Zoning Commission invites every stakeholder to a special planning session to discuss this important topic on October 22 (7 p.m., Town Hall).
Public comment from all Westport residents is welcome and encouraged. If you want to leave a written comment, please comment here — in the sunlight where everyone can see — and not on private Facebook groups that have segmented us into elementary school parents, middle school parents and everyone else. (Click “Comments” below — and use full, real names.)
The P&Z staff will ensure that every comment left on this public forum is included in the public record. Whether you favor a unified middle school, a newly built state-of-the-art CMS or a rehabbed CMS, please voice your thoughts.
The CMS Taskforce has not yet begun to spend the full $32 million. It’s time to be deliberative, not impulsive. There is a lot of new information to consider regarding demographics, redistricting and the benefits of a unified middle school.
This is a huge expenditure for our town. It will impact everyone’s taxes.
Let’s be sure it reflects how the public envisions our middle school institutions over the next 3 decades.
This Unsung Heroes post started with a request to honor one Bedford Middle School music teacher: Lou Kitchner.
A parent praised him for his “innate passion for music, and the power music can have on an individual child.” She mentioned his special ability to make each student feel special; his utter devotion to his craft, and the youngsters he works with; his ability to reach each at their own level, and help them reach far beyond whatever they thought was possible.
Mr. Kitchner certainly deserves those kudos. But Westport is fortunate to have many other superb music educators too. Each one — from elementary school teachers like Greens Farms’ Suzanne Sherman Propp, to Staples’ Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda (who retires this year, after more than 40 years as band leader) — earns well-deserved praise and love from students and parents.
So — 2 days before the Westport music department’s 4th annual Pops Concert (a sellout, as always) — “06880” hails the entire town’s band, orchestra and vocal teachers as Unsung Heroes.
Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda at the 2018 Candlelight Concert.
But I kept thinking about Lou Kitchner and his Bedford band. This has been a very tough year for his school — and of course Coleytown Middle too. Teachers from 2 schools were suddenly thrown together, in 1 building. Overnight, they had to adapt to an entirely new situation.
With incredible hard work, they got it done. Administrators and staff members — teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, you name it — did whatever they had to to serve their students. (The same thing happened at Staples High, with Coleytown’s 8th graders.)
Spaces and resources were shared. Schedules were worked out. Everyone compromised. The school year went on.
That teamwork was never more evident than on Memorial Day. The Bedford and Coleytown bands marched together. Their numbers were huge. Their sound was impressive. Walking proudly — in front of, behind, and among them — were music teachers from both schools.
The Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands combined this year. Hundreds of young musicians sounded great — and very together! (Photo/Sarah Tamm)
So everyone who had any part in making the Coleytown/Bedford/Staples transition work this year is an Unsung Hero too.
That’s a lot of heroes. But it takes a village to educate a child.
This has not been an easy year for middle schoolers.
Coleytown was closed in September due to mold; 6th and 7th graders have been at Bedford ever since. Every day, administrators, staff and students of 2 schools make compromises. Everyone involved has done a great — and often unheralded — job.
But it’s one thing to move classes, or share gym and cafeteria space. It’s another thing entirely to accommodate 2 different drama productions simultaneously.
Traditionally each spring, CMS stages an all-school musical. BMS puts on a 6th grade non-musical.
Both are fully staged, with professionally produced costumes and sets. Both involve scores of students.
Directors Ben Frimmer (CMS) and Karen McCormick (BMS) agreed to keep the schedule the same as in past years. They would share space during rehearsals, but — to provide stage time for actors and the technical staff — Bedford would push its opening back to April.
Bedford Middle School art teacher Lynn Karmen, with one of her set painters. (Photo/Melissa Fass)
Musicals require tons of space — for dancers, singers and scene work. Coleytown’s “42nd Street” was especially big. With only 3 weeks for Bedford to install their set, create costumes and the actors to transfer what they’d learned from such a small space to a big stage, the BMS show could not be technically complex.
Normally, Bedford’s non-musical is a version of a classic childen’s book like “Alice in Wonderland” or “The Phantom Tollbooth.” But with such limited room for rehearsals, plus set and costume construction, McCormick and her staff decided on a series of short stories from the 1960s “Rocky & Bullwinkle” cartoon show, called “Fractured Fairy Tales.”
They crafted 15 stories, and added short “fairy tale” commercials.
That provided 70 actors with over 240 roles to share. There are 40 narrators, 15-plus kings, queens, princes and princesses, and dozens of goblins, beasts, chickens, ogres, court jesters and peasants. Each youngster is featured in at least 2 “plays.”
The Do It All Wand cast. (Photo/January Stewart)
They found space in hallways and classrooms. Combined with Coleytown’s set construction crews, tap dancers, costume people, there were some very noisy afternoons.
“The kids didn’t mind,” McCormick says. “They worked very well under the circumstances.”
With just 12 days of unfettered access to the stage, BMS got creative with their set. “Fractured Fairy Tales” uses a new 25-foot floor-to-ceiling movie screen as a backdrop. It features hundreds of colorful images, most from old cartoons. On stage, 20 colorful 18-inch cubes instantly turn into thrones, tables or mountains.
Transferring the off-stage rehearsals onto the large stage has taken some work. But, McCormick says, the actors are working hard on new blocking, and pumped-up motions.
“Fractured Fairy Tales” rehearsals are fun — and energetic. (Photo/Melissa Fass)
Costumes were done later than usual too. BMS actors received theirs only a few days ago. Each person has 2 to 4 costume changes — some with only minutes to spare. They’re working on that too.
But this is Bedford Middle School. Like their Coleytown counterparts, the young actors and their tech crew embrace the challenge.
When the curtain rises this Friday, audiences will not even realize what everyone went through to produce “Fractured Fairy Tales.” They’ll smile, laugh and applaud. Just like every other BMS show.
(“Fractured Fairy Tales” performances are this Friday, April 26 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 27 at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, April 28 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets.)
(NOTE: Coleytown’s show — “42nd Street” — overcame several obstacles too, beyond shared space. Click here for that “06880” story.)
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