As it has for the last two years, the proposed auditorium and music classroom project at Greenwich High School dominated the comments made by residents at the Board of Estimate and Taxation's (BET) budget hearing Tuesday night.
Twenty residents, town officials and members of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) took just about 70 minutes to voice their opinions on the proposed $380.2 million budget for 2013-14. The BET is to vote on the budget at its March 21 meeting, which if approved, represents a 3.4 percent increase over the current $367.7 million budget. The mill rate would increase from $10.389 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $10.675.
As Board of Education members grapple with the ever-increasing cost estimates for the MISA (Music Instructional Space and Auditorium) project at the high school now that bids for the project hover in the $40 million range and costs of removing PCB-contaminated soil on the Hillside Road campus range from $12 to $140 million, critics urged the BET to halt further work on the project.
"I won't say I told you so," said former RTM member Karen Fassuliotis, a perennial critic of the project who has questioned the environmental safety of the project. "I am vehemently opposed to spending any more monies" on the project.
RTM member Peter Quigley from District 7 also urged the BET to not commit more money to MISA or other major capital projects without first vetting the environmental feasibility. "We have to take these sites and make sure they are clean" before building," Quigley said.
As vocal as opponents to MISA were, so were supporters.
Jennifer Meredith, co-president of the GHS PTA, said, "We need appropriate facilities…that should be comparable to other school districts and meet state guidelines. (The PTA) believes the merits of this project still stand even if some changes are made." She told the BET "We do however, strongly urge you to not accept or expect a substandard solution or piecemeal alternative to the overall project."
Greenwich Symphony Orchestra President Mary Radcliffe also urged continued support for MISA. "We have the finest professional teachers to head our award-winning band and orchestra. However, the facilities are woefully outdated and too small…please look to the future years and let work begin on outdated faciliites."
First Selectman Peter Tesei praised the BET's budget deliberations and said that his proposed budget presents the best for public safety, education and recreation for residents. "We are in a competitive market and I think we want to maintain the value of Greenwich residency," Tesei said.
Allan Williams, president of the Northwest Greenwich Association which is comprised of 550 families in the town's backcountry, urged the BET to continue to fund efforts to build a fire station and station for Greenwich Emergency Medical Services in the northwest sector.
BET Michael Mason said the decision on whether to fund MISA with the first phase being construction of a nearly 1,400-seat auditorium, will be made Thursday night after the Board of Education presents its decision on how to proceed with the plan because of higher than expected construction bid costs.
The BET's budget vote is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 21 in the Meeting Room of Town Hall.
*Editor's note: this story has been updated to clarify the quote from Jennifer Meredith.