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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.