Bite the bullet

FI-EditorialBoard of Estimate and Taxation member Sean Goldrick put it succinctly this week when talking about funding for the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA).

“We’re just going to have to bite the bullet on this,” he said to his BET colleagues.

And while some people may not want to hear it, he’s absolutely right.

It’s unfortunate that the bids on funding the project came in far above expectations, driving the price tag up to a point where even MISA’s most ardent supporters had to do a double take. Of course, $36 million is nothing to be taken lightly, but Greenwich can afford this. And cutting out major parts of the design to reduce that price tag would be a huge mistake.

Instead, the Board of Education needs to be brave and not cut out vital parts of the design. This project came forward because for years Greenwich’s talented musicians and singers and actors and backstage crews have been left in a substandard auditorium and because students didn’t have the space they needed to learn music they could excel at. MISA has been a hard-fought campaign over the years and it is close to finally becoming a reality.

Yes, the price tag is high. It’s a concern. Spending money for capital projects without careful consideration is just as bad as not spending it at all. But this project has been thoroughly vetted, perhaps more than any capital project in the town’s history, and to start taking out seating and the orchestra pit and eliminating the kind of aesthetics that would give first-rate talents a first-rate facility would be a huge disservice.

If the Board of Education wants to do right by future students, it will resist pressure to make major changes to the design. Mr. Goldrick is absolutely right, and if his views go too far for some, then how about Republican BET member Joe Pellegrino, chairman of the budget committee, who offered his personal view that reducing the seating did not make sense? Increasing seating was a major reason for doing MISA in the first place, and to spend tens of millions of dollars and not address the glaring deficiencies of the existing auditorium actually is reckless spending.

There was no doubt a lot of cheering from certain sections of town when the bids came in so high, as blood was now in the water and the possibility once again tantalizingly existed that MISA could be reduced, if not outright eliminated. But the high bids don’t change the facts. The town is still very much behind MISA, and this badly needed project has been put off twice already by short-thinking officials in the past. A third time would  not be the charm.

Past BETs and Boards of Education decided to cut corners and finish off the high school on the cheap with a substandard auditorium. Greenwich must not let history repeat itself, no matter how loud the cries of the very vocal minority. The town will no doubt hear from this segment of the Representative Town Meeting, but there’s no need to give them what they want, especially since time and again this select segment of members has shown there’s not an expenditure they can’t oppose. They even voted against helping puppies earlier this month at the RTM.

The town has come too far on MISA and the project is too badly needed to turn back now. Momentum must continue forward. There has already been far too much delay, and it’s worth noting that had this project not been slowed through paralysis by analysis, bids could have been accepted when construction prices were far lower.

Now the economy is getting better, which is good news for America but bad news for MISA. It’s not a reason to stop or cut corners. Not with so much money in the reserves. Not with long-term bonding such a reasonable idea.

The town needs to get this project right, and that means full funding and support. Too much has been and will be spent to give it anything less.

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