Tag Archives: Don O’Day

Bright, Airy, Fresh-Smelling, Mold-Free: “New” Coleytown Middle School Reopens Today

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)

Unsung Hero #171

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.

Don O’Day

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 dwoog@optonline.net)

Don O’Day: Report From New Hampshire

For most Westporters, winter in New Hampshire means skiing.

Don O’Day packs a camera and a note pad.

Every 4 years — when the quirky New England state commands the national political spotlight — the former chair of the Board of Education, and self-described “Joe Lieberman of the Westport Democratic party” (he supported Jim Marpe for 1st selectman) heads north.

He takes a first-hand look at the men and women who — at this early stage of the presidential campaign — crisscross the Granite State. O’Day is there as they speak to small crowds, mingle afterward, and engage in the type of retail politics that the rest of the country outside of Iowa* can only dream about.

Don O’Day (lower right) with presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

O’Day has been a political junkie since 1968. As an 11-year-old newspaper delivery boy, he was fascinated by stories about Robert Kennedy’s run for the White House.

He worked on Al Gore’s 1988 race. In 2000, when the Tennessee senator ran again, O’Day left Westport for New Hampshire to help. “It was so cool to see how folks there gathered at diners and VFW halls to see the candidates,” he recalls. “They were as engaged in politics as I am.”

He returned in 2004 and ’08. Board of Ed commitments kept him here 8 years ago. But in 2016 he was there again.

His most recent trip ended yesterday (after watching a recording of “Morning Joe”).

The O’Day family, with (rear) “Morning Joe”‘s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

Over the course of a few days O’Day heard 7 Democratic candidates speak. He asked questions, gave feedback, and spoke personally with most.

Some encounters confirmed his earlier impressions. Others altered them.

Here — in alphabetical order — are O’Day’s thoughts.


The New Hampshire primary never disappoints. This year was no different. The crowds and enthusiasm appeared to be much larger and more enthusiastic than in the past.

My wife Toni and I and 2 of our sons (Donny and Mike — plus Mike’s girlfriend, Nicole) set out to see and hopefully talk to as many of the presidential candidates as possible, and as many times as possible.

We weren’t the only Westporters in New Hampshire. Jeff Wieser and his wife Pat also made the trip to see the candidates.

Bottom line: I have no idea what is going to happen today, other than a Sanders win – just like 2016. Second through 5th place is up for grabs, but I got the sense that Joe Biden might be closer to 5th than 2nd.

In alphabetical order, here’s what I saw:

Joe Biden

A true gentleman and the most decent national politician I have ever met.  Letting “Joe be Joe” wasn’t the approach though, and it has hurt him.  Sorry to say that this may not be his time.

Joe Biden with Donny O’Day.

Pete Buttigieg

Much more than the new shiny object in the early contests (see Hart and Dean).   Pete’s crowds were huge, and his answers to every question I heard over 3 events were thoughtful and detailed. He came off as an incredibly intelligent, passionate and gifted politician. If this isn’t his time, I think it will come and soon. Maybe now.

A screenshot of Don O’Day questioning Pete Buttigieg.

Amy Klobuchar

Amy seems to be building momentum, and was my candidate going in. She also got better and better every time we saw her. She has reasonable views that are very progressive, unless they are compared to a Sanders or Warren platform.  Her chances will soar if she finishes in the top 3.

Don O’Day and Amy Klobuchar.

Bernie Sanders

What struck me as a cult following that I mistook for simply an anti-Hillary position in 2016 is now clearly an all-out movement with deep passion. Bernie’s promise of free college, Medicare for all, a strong environmental position, and his “us versus them” message has never wavered. There were more Sanders volunteers than for any other candidate. I’m pretty sure what stopped Bernie in 2016 will stop him again in 2020. Also, Bernie is not a very nice guy. But my son did warm up the Bernie crowd we attended with a mic check.

A Bernie Sanders mic check with Mike O’Day.

Tom Steyer

My favorite event, because the crowds were less intense, it was held in a brewery and Tom bought everyone a beer. He has the most consistent anti-Trump message, and a very strong climate message too. He’s more than a guy with billions; his in-person persona is quite different from what you see on the debate stage. He’s not going away.

Tom Steyer and Don O’Day.

Elizabeth Warren

I only saw Senator Warren once, and that was at a large arena, so it’s harder to form an opinion about her from personal contact. I really admire “and yet she persisted,” and that should never stop. But Senator Warren is not the leader of the progressive movement – Bernie is. As long as he is in the race, she will not win.

Andrew Yang

The candidate who makes everyone think, and thoroughly entertains and engages you while doing it. This is just not his time, but his message is powerful and honest.

Andy Yang and Don O’Day.

There you have it: One man’s opinions. They’re calm and measured. Please respond civilly in the “Comments” section. Overly personal attacks — on candidates, other posters or O’Day himself — will be removed.

*Though probably not in 2024

Don O’Day Does New Hampshire

Hillary Clinton is energetic and engaging. Marco Rubio is very smart, but not yet ready to be president. Donald Trump is also smart, and dangerous.

That’s not me talking. It’s Don O’Day.

And he has better personal insights into all those candidates than anyone else in Westport.

O’Day — former chair of the Board of Education, and a self-described “Joe Lieberman of the Westport Democratic party” (he supported Jim Marpe for 1st selectman) — just returned from several days in New Hampshire.

He heads north every 4 years, to take a first-hand look at the men and women who — at this early stage of the presidential campaign — crisscross the Granite State, speak to small crowds, mingle afterward, and engage in the type of retail politics that the rest of the country outside of Iowa can only dream about.

Don O'Day (lower right) with presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

Don O’Day (lower right) with presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

O’Day has been a political junkie since 1968. As an 11-year-old newspaper delivery boy, he was fascinated by stories about Robert Kennedy’s run for the White House.

He worked on Al Gore’s 1988 race. In 2000, when the Tennessee senator ran again, O’Day left Westport for New Hampshire to help. “It was so cool to see how folks there gathered at diners and VFW halls to see the candidates,” he recalls. “They were as engaged in politics as I am.”

He returned in 2004 and ’08. Board of Ed commitments kept him here 4 years ago. But last week — as he did 8 years ago — O’Day traveled north with his wife Toni and sons Donny, Tom and Michael.

Over the course of a few days O’Day heard all 7 Republican candidates, and both Democrats, speak. He asked questions, gave feedback, and spoke personally with most.

Some encounters confirmed his earlier impressions. Others altered them.

Here — in alphabetical order — are O’Day’s thoughts:

Jeb Bush (at a middle school in Bedford): “He’s personable and decent. He’s accomplished — he helped improve schools in Florida.”

Governor Jeb Bush and Don O'Day.

Governor Jeb Bush and Don O’Day.

When the former governor asked for questions following his talk, O’Day went first. He described Mike Weaver’s dramatic, 15th-round left hook knockout in the 1980 heavyweight championship fight.

Referring to the debate that would be held in a few hours, O’Day told Bush: “You’re Mike Weaver. Throw that punch tonight.”

Bush seemed uncomfortable at first, but thanked O’Day. He said he was the only Republican candidate attacking Trump. Then he shadow-boxed on stage. Afterward, former candidate Lindsey Graham — stumping with Bush — sought O’Day out, and thanked him.

“That night, he was fired up,” O’Day says. “I may have helped!”

Chuck Todd and Ben Carson.

Chuck Todd and Ben Carson.

Ben Carson (Radisson Hotel, Manchester TV taping). O’Day watched the retired neurosurgeon being interviewed by Chuck Todd.

“He seems like a very nice guy, but he’s not someone whose skills are transferable to being president,” O’Day says.

Chris Christie (Strafford Farms Restaurant, Dover): Seated very close to the New Jersey governor, O’Day asked him a challenging question about Social Security means testing.

“He was completely honest,” O’Day says. “He answered my question, point by point. He said the money is not there anymore, and he doesn’t support increasing taxes for it. I can’t support him — but I really liked his honesty.”

Governor Chris Christie, Toni and Michael O'Day.

Governor Chris Christie, Toni and Michael O’Day.

Hillary Clinton (Manchester YMCA and at a dinner in Manchester): The former Secretary of State stuck around to meet voters after her Y talk. “I was pleasantly surprised how engaging she was with everyone,” O’Day says.

Hillary Clinton, Don and Toni O'Day.

Hillary Clinton

He told her how well she’d done in the most recent debate. “She maintained eye contact despite all this distractions.” When he asked for a photo, she took his phone for a selfie. There were problems with the device, which she tried to fix before handing it to an aide who tried unsuccessfully for a shot.

“She’s going non-stop and showing great effort,” O’Day says. “I liked her more than I thought I would. And she’s clearly my wife’s favorite.”

Ted Cruz (Generals Sports Bar & Grill, Weare):  O’Day calls the Texas senator “a little full of himself. He believes he is Reagan. He seems like the kid in school you can’t warm up to.”

The Cruz appearance was the only place O’Day heard an audience member read from a prepared question. This one was about Scripture.

O’Day gave Cruz credit for answering that he is not trying to head up a religious movement. “The President of the United States is the president of all the people,” he said. Still, O’Day got the impression that “he’s doing whatever he thinks is good for Ted Cruz.”

Senator Ted Cruz, Don and Tom O'Day.

Senator Ted Cruz and Tom O’Day.

John Kasich (American Legion Hall, Alton): The Ohio governor was “very engaging and effective.

Governor John Kasich and Don O'Day.

Governor John Kasich and Don O’Day.

“He’s disciplined — the kind of guy who would get the job done. Of everyone running, he seems the one who would cross party lines the most. He’d stick to his guns, but compromise when he had to.”

Marco Rubio (Frank Jones Center, Portsmouth): “I love my little brother,” O’Day says. “But at the end of the day, he’s still my little brother. Rubio needs more seasoning.”

O’Day told the Florida senator he had a far superior answer to a debate question about the “nuclear triad” than Trump — and added that he hadn’t seen anyone in the media mention it. Rubio thanked O’Day. On Sunday morning during a TV interview, Rubio criticized Trump for not knowing anything about that triad.

Toni O'Day with Senator Marco Rubio.

Toni O’Day with Senator Marco Rubio.

Bernie Sanders (Shaheen dinner, Manchester): “There were far more Bernie supporters at that dinner than there were for Hillary. And his people were louder and younger. It brought me back to Robert Kennedy. People gravitate toward him.”

However, O’Day likens the phenomenon to ordering a meal on an expense account: “When the bill comes, you don’t have to pay. I’ve been a banker for 35 years. It’s  not in my best interest to vote for someone who will take down my employer.”

But, O’Day says, “I love what he’s done for politics.”

O’Day was too far away for a good photo of the Vermont senator. His son Donny shot this video:

 

Donald Trump (Exeter Town Hall): He had the longest line, by far: 600 people. It was the only venue with protesters — and the only one that was an “event,” not a “political rally.”

Donald Trump (Photo/Don O'Day)

Donald Trump (Photo/Don O’Day)

O’Day likens the businessman to Michael Jordan: “He may have been the best basketball player, but he couldn’t shift his skill set to baseball.

“There’s no substance whatever to Trump. I couldn’t see him being president during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We need a president to be calm. Trump speaks before he thinks.”

O’Day returned home Sunday. Yesterday — the day before the primary — he was still stoked.

“Going up there is always awesome,” he says. “Everyone I talk to says they want to do it. You feel like a groupie. But it’s the best civics lesson in the world.”

So will he head to New Hampshire again, in 2020?

“Probably,” O’Day says. “But based on my ‘throw that punch’ comment to Bush, maybe I should be an adviser.”

Thanks And Goodbye To Don O’Day

Last night, Board of Education chairman Don O’Day told his fellow members he’s stepping down.

With new responsibilities and increased travel — his day job is chief administrative officer in CitiMortgage’s risk management division in Stamford — Don cannot devote the necessary time to the countless hours this volunteer position demands.

Don O’Day

Overseeing an excellent school system — with superb staff, a top-level and very broad curriculum, high-achieving students, stratospheric expectations and demanding parents, all while balancing the fiscal needs of the town, in  exceptionally challenging economic times — is even more difficult than it sounds.

Don served on the board since 2005, and has been chairman for 4 years. He brought enormous dedication, tremendous patience and great expertise to the crucial post.

Over the past decade, Westport’s Board of Education has come a long way. Partisan rancor, recall petitions and referendum votes are things of the past. We may not always agree with the board’s decisions, but they are arrived at deliberately and democratically.

As noted last night by fellow board members, Don’s hallmarks as a leader have been collaboration, transparency, inclusion, trust and — this is key — non-partisanship.

Don — and his colleagues and recent predecessors — deserve our deepest thanks for all they have done.

I can’t imagine the phone calls, emails and wrestling meet-sideline conversations Don has had over the years, with hundreds of Westporters. Everyone in town has opinions; no one is shy about sharing them.

Don listened to all. Before presenting a budget, making a speech or casting a vote, he considered the views of the teachers and administrators the Board employs, and the Westporters whose taxes pay them.

And then he thought about the students who pass through this system. In the pressure cooker of politics, it’s easy to forget kids.

Don O’Day never did.

Board Of Ed Chairman Says “Thank You”

Last night, the Board of Finance unanimously approved the Board of Education’s proposed 2012-13 budget.

The figure — praised by Finance members on both sides of the aisle — is $100.2 million. That’s a 2.17% percent increase over the current budget.

Tonight, Board of Education chairman Don O’Day issued this statement:

I want to sincerely thank the school community for their tremendous level of support on Thursday night. If you were unable to make it, trust me when I say that Town Hall was packed. The strong message from kids, teachers, parents, and administrators in attendance was unanimous: Westport’s schools are a priority, and should be funded. Like no other year I can remember, the Avi Kaner-led Board of Finance heartily agreed.

I want to especially thank Janis Collins, who was the first to say that she supported the 2012-13 school budget and would vote to approve it without a reduction. Janis recognized the school administration and the BOE for producing a lean and thoughtful budget. Her sincere recognition was much appreciated after months of hard work and difficult choices by the school administration and the Board of Education.

The Board of Finance approved the BOE’s 2012-13 school budget without cuts. The approval followed a commitment that I made, on behalf of the BOE, to review, with the administration and my BOE colleagues, different ways to lower class sizes without increasing the 2012-13 budget.  We will re-double our efforts to explore that goal for the elementary schools, as well as the middles schools and Staples. Tom Lasersohn deserves recognition for passionately speaking about the benefits of lower class sizes.

The results may not be exactly what everyone wants, but I do know this: Because of the willingness of the Board of Finance and the Board of Education to work together, we are all in a better place for our kids.

Thanks again to all of my fellow Westporters, for your support of our schools.

Ed Board Dollars And Sense

With the budget season in full swing, the Board of Education presents its figures to the Board of Finance this Thursday (March 29, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall — it’s a public meeting).

Among the key points to be made by chairman Don O’Day:

The Board of Ed has weathered 3 years of budget reductions. Each year, its budget has been reduced by the Board of Finance and RTM to levels below the contractually required salary increases for the union staff (94% of the total 872 Board of Ed employees). In response, they’ve cut — while delivering great services. That quiver may no longer hold any arrows.

This year, the Board of Ed made the very tough decision to reduce staff — and not through attrition. They did it before the Board of Finance and/or RTM told them to — to $300,000 below the contractual salary increases. They hope that in return, the Board of Finance affirms the budget — resisting the temptation to cut further, for the sake of cutting.

(Staff has been reduced by 28 positions — 3% — since the market crash of 2008. Enrollment, meanwhile, is up by 50 students.)

The Board of Ed denied a proposal to add more money to the budget, in order to lower elementary school class sizes. Yet as enrollment increases, and dollars become scarce, larger classes loom at Staples. We’re talking 25+ in some required subjects.

Coleytown is the #1 middle school in the state, according to Conncan.

Once again, Westport is at the low end within its District Reference Group (similar towns), for annual budget increases. And once again, Staples is rated the #1 high school in Connecticut — and Coleytown and Bedford are the #1 and #2 middle schools, respectively, in the Conncan assessment.

In addition, the Board of Ed switched insurance carriers. Meanwhile– pretty impressively — overall health benefit costs have been held flat.

The Board of Education’s goal is to do whatever it can to save money — without impacting services. Starting Thursday night, it gets the chance to hear what the town thinks of its plan.

Westport, Weston Schools In Early Talks On Consolidation

Back to the future?

“06880” has learned that Westport and Weston school officials have started preliminary negotiations to consolidate the 2 districts.  The reason:  substantial budget savings for both towns.

The plan would involve Weston High School students attending Staples.  With approximately 1,700 students at Staples, and 800 at Weston, double sessions may be needed.

Weston High, meanwhile, would become a middle school for students from both towns.  Coleytown would be the obvious choice for closure, due to its proximity to Weston.

Coleytown El may also be shuttered.  Students would be distributed throughout Westport’s 4 other elementary schools.

The two Coleytown schools could then be sold, presumably to private developers.  One possible use — though no one will say so publicly — is for a new YMCA.

Weston High School

“Weston students went to Staples until 1970,” Westport superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon said.  “This sounds radical, but it is something that the 2 towns did for many years.  In today’s economic climate, we have to look at every option.”

The proposal is far from firm, Landon emphasized.  He did confirm that talks have been held with his Weston counterpart, Jerome R. Belair.

“I think this is the kind of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking that we encourage all our students to engage in,” said Staples principal John Dodig.

“I don’t know much about Weston, but the superintendent has asked me to find out.  I’m sure they have areas of strength that we could build upon, just as we have a number of strong programs that Weston students could benefit from.”

“We either consolidate buildings, or cut personnel and programs,” explained Westport Board of Education chairman Don O’Day.

“Is this a solution I would choose?  No.  But in today’s economic climate, we may have no other choice.”

The 2 towns have cooperated educationally long after Weston High opened.  Two examples:  the high schools field a Staples-Weston co-op ice hockey team, while for several years the Staples gymnastics team practiced in Weston.

“06880” will provide updates as the talks continue.  But we wonder:  If Weston rejoins Westport, what about Wilton?  Until 1955, Wilton students attended Staples too.

(For more on the proposed Westport-Weston schools consolidation plan, click here.)