At long last, MISA construction resumes

Construction vehicles have returned to Greenwich High School and the MISA building area is now fenced off. — Ken Borsuk photo

Construction vehicles have returned to Greenwich High School and the MISA building area is now fenced off.
— Ken Borsuk photo

Almost two years since the brakes were applied, construction for the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project is back underway at Greenwich High School.

The renewal of actual work on the project has been a long time coming for MISA, which has been in a period of flux since work on the parking lot two years ago led to the discovery of contaminated soil at the school. The contamination, which is believed to have been caused by bad fill brought in during the school’s initial construction more than 40 years ago, forced construction to be stopped while the extent of the issue was determined and a plan developed. Then the project hit another roadblock in March when construction bids came in higher than expected, pushing the price tag to $42.4 million.

Ultimately, the Board of Education voted to push forward with MISA without any cost-cutting changes due to concerns that it would hurt the educational value of the project. And then the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) approved a $9.8-million appropriation in the 2013-14 municipal budget by razor thin margins, allowing construction to go forward.

This past Monday, that work resumed as the area in back of the school was fenced off and construction vehicles arrived for what is planned to be an aggressive summer of work. According to MISA Building Committee Chairman Joe Ross, it will take two and a half to three years for the project as a whole. The auditorium is the first phase and, after that’s complete, the classroom expansion for more musical instructional space will be done.

The work over the next 30 days will include demolition in the school’s gym for new egress routes, removing asphalt and base at the site of the existing auditorium, excavating rock and getting rid of the existing storm water line and installing a new one. There will also be work done to remove contaminated soil from the project’s work area.

That is expected to happen by Aug. 8 and after that the next 30-day projection for work includes the complete renovation in the gym for those egress routes, excavation of the site for the new auditorium’s orchestra pit, and installation of new piping and a water filtration system.

“While some inconveniences are unavoidable with a project of this scope, we will work to minimize the disruptions to the instructional and extracurricular programs, as well as to the surrounding neighborhoods,” Mr. Ross said in a letter distributed by the school district.

Comments, questions or concerns for the building committee may be emailed to [email protected]

Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarty told the Post that it was good to see the work begin again. She said that once the RTM gave the go-ahead to the increased funding at the May budget meeting, it was going to happen, “But certainly it’s very reassuring to see the construction vehicles on site. That makes it more real.”

She added, “It’s gratifying to see the start of construction on the MISA project. The facilities are sorely needed and will benefit generations of students as well as the community. The Board of Education appreciates the support of the residents and town officials to realize this vision.”

Ms. Moriarty said after all the work that went into making sure MISA moved forward, from the board to teachers and administrators to parents and students, there was a sigh of relief for things to be moving forward once more.

“As with any construction project, you know things aren’t going to always run smoothly but hopefully the worst is behind us,” Ms. Moriarty said.

The construction work has resumed with a careful eye on the remediation of the GHS fields, which still needs to be done. While the fields are considered safe for use for students due to temporary remediation measures put in place, the removal of the contaminated soil still must be done. According to town Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert, work is progressing on designing an action plan that must be approved both by the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The preliminary action plan was developed after public hearings this past spring. Under this option, soil, ranging from one foot to three feet deep, would be removed from the contaminated areas. But how much that plan will cost and how long it will take still hasn’t been determined and it needs to get state and federal approvals before it can proceed. Ms. Siebert told the Post on Tuesday that design of the plan is ongoing and that she hopes to have a draft ready in August and a formal presentation in September.

Ms. Siebert said there is a public hearing on the remediation tentatively scheduled for Sept. 18. By presenting this to the regulators in the fall, with an approval hoped for soon after, Ms. Siebert said Public Works would be able to go out to bid on the remediation and have a submission ready to be considered for the town’s 2014-15 budget. She said she would like, if all goes according to plan, to begin work on removing the soil in late June/early July 2014 after school has let out and she acknowledged this would be a “tight time frame.”

Ms. Siebert said her department is in contact with the MISA Building Committee as needed and continues to work closely both with town departments like the Board of Education and Parks and Recreation while also maintaining regular communication with the DEEP and EPA.

When asked if she felt all the town departments and the federal and state officials were on the same page, Ms. Siebert said, “I think so. I think we’re all moving forward with a similar approach.”

As part of the design work for the action plan the goal is be able to remove the soil without causing too much of a disruption at GHS. That is why work would be scheduled to take place during the summer and why communication with the MISA Building Committee is critical.

“We’re going to be disturbing things as little as possible while still getting that soil out of there,” Ms. Siebert said. “We’ve got our hands full.”


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