Letter To The Editor: Councilor Was Off Base With Berlin Renovation Remarks

BOE President spells out role in project.


Dear Editor,

This letter is in response to Councilman Evans recent letter to the editor concerning his views on the Berlin High School project.  Unfortunately, Mr. Evan’s views are based on a series of flawed assumptions.

By way of background, it is important for readers to understand what the Board of Education’s role in the building process is – and isn’t.  By Charter, the Board of Education is responsible for developing and approving the “educational specifications” for the High School building.  In other words, what should the building contain – number of classrooms, number of lockers, and so on.  Beyond this responsibility, the Board has no formal role or vote in the building process.

As an initial matter, Mr. Evans writes that the “simple solution” is for the Board of Education to “adjust” it’s educational specifications to allow for a less expensive project.  This suggestion ignores the fact that the Board of Education has already significantly modified its educational specifications twice in an attempt to have the project fit the approved budget, including the elimination of a 20,000 sq. ft. addition to accommodate new science labs.

As the project currently stands, the renovation is confined to the existing building footprint, with the only addition to the building a 12,000 sq. ft. pre-engineered building to house our tech education classrooms.  What’s more, as Mr. Evans should know, this addition does not add any additional cost to the project as it is in lieu of necessary construction “swing” space, space that was not included in the original design.

In fact, the renovated High School will actually have less space for the library, gymnasium/fitness, locker rooms and tech classrooms than the current building.  The focus of the Board is, and remains, the renovation of a 60 year old building and providing sufficient classroom space for existing and future educational programs.  There are no easy reductions at this point, and if Mr. Evans has specific thoughts I invite him to share them with the Board of Education and the public, instead of blithely suggesting that a “simple solution” exists.

Unfortunately, Mr. Evans does not confine his comments to the building project, but makes a gratuitous and unwarranted statement about “substandard education.”  This assertion, however, is not just unsupported, but incorrect.  For example, according to CAPT results, Berlin High School is second in Reading and third in Writing in our reference group.  More students are taking AP courses and they are scoring higher.  And our new program of studies offers our students one of the most comprehensive and rigorous course of study in the State.

While we agree that instruction is compromised in some areas by our outdated facility, it is a gross misstatement to describe the education offered by Berlin Public Schools as “substandard,” and it is irresponsible for Mr. Evans to do so.

Mr. Evans speaks of the need for “leadership” as if he is not an elected member of the Council.  The Board of Education identified the need for a new or renovated High School facility before the NEASC and OCR reports, worked to inform residents prior to the referendums, and has significantly modified its educational specifications in an attempt to save a project hampered by a flawed cost estimate.  Perhaps Mr. Evans can display leadership similar to that already provided by the Board of Education, instead of looking to assign blame prior to the Council taking action.

Gary Brochu

President, Berlin Board of Education

Buddy September 10, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Out of curiousity, who included a "Greenhouse" in the new reonovation? What happend to the 25,000 Sq. Ft. addition we all voted for? Isn't this really a 83 Million Dollar Project the BOE expected to get for 70 Million? Didn't the BOE and Town Council leadership tell us that the bids were going to come in under 70 Million?
Dave Evans September 11, 2012 at 05:06 AM
Gary,    Bob Mayer did not post the anonymous letter I referenced due to Patch policies. That letter referred to "substandard education".   My comment was to the anonymous writer's statement indicating improvement to what that writer sees as substandard. I expect Berlin Schools to deliver an outstanding education and have seen progress toward such and have as far back as my discussions with Dr. Cicchetti expressing the need to prepare our children to compete globally not just in a reference group or the state.    The BOE eventually rescinded the statement of need for a new high school. You indicate the Board has no formal role or vote in the building process, but consultation and input was sought and provided in formal and informal ways such that the BOE has heavily influenced the architects design.   The leadership I'm referring to is what the anonymous writer was criticizing which included the council.  I cited a specific example of a team building leadership action I took, maybe you took this as a slight to BOE leadership. I will leave judgment of BOE leadership to what voters decide.     Something has to give and I believe the expectations are to revise specification and to do so within a budget.  The longer we delay the more likely everyone is to lose, both voter and child alike.   Dave
Gary Brochu September 11, 2012 at 11:16 AM
David You know that the Board of Education has significantly modified our statement of need, including the fact that the 20,000 sq ft addition for the science labs is no longer part of the project and our tech education classrooms are now to be housed in a metal pre-engineered building. The project, in terms of cost, has been reduced to the existing building footprint. If you have thoughts as to how the specifications can be reduced, then share them The Board of Education has more than demonstrated its willingness to do what is necessary to make this project work while still meeting the needs of our students. Your suggestion that it has not, and your letter can not be read in any other way, is contrary to the facts and not helpful to the process. The fact is, given that the project is now confined to the existing footprint, no one knows if additional modifications to educational specifications will yield cost savings nor what those savings might be. Including you. Before posting that a "simple solution" exists perhaps we should first determine what our possible "solutions" are. But all of us, including the Council, should be very concerned that at this point the educational needs of our children appear ready to be sacrificed to meet the flawed cost estimate of a hired design professional. We have work to do. If you wish to discuss how we can move forward, call me. But let's leave these postings to others.
Dave Evans September 11, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Gary, I welcome discussing moving forward using lessons learned to date. I understand I have suggested an option that appears unworkable to you. Finding options ahead of us is the challenge. By no means will any option be simple to implement considering the charter and where we are in the process with the state and others. I welcome a call or visit with you just as I have approached you or gone to many BOE meetings over the course of this project. In a relative sense revising the spec may certainly be simpler than seeking more money from the electorate. Dave


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