Guest post by Liz Tommasino, RTM, D8
Greenwich Public School District officials have decided NOW is the time for Hamilton Avenue Elementary School to get a new heating and cooling system after its original geothermal system failed in August.
"In August 2023, just before the start of the school year, the system reached a failure point with temperatures in the building, with full cooling, in excess of 86 (degrees Fahrenheit)," according to the project's ed specs. "To safely start school, (Greenwich Public Schools) conducted an emergency procurement of a temporary HVAC unit. Assessments of the geothermal system have been completed. Based on this report, GPS Facilities strongly recommends moving to a traditional system.”
The GPS district has recently requested $3.2 million in interim funding to pay for a new HVAC system to replace geothermal system and the temporary one that the school is currently using. The new HVAC system's design will use an air-cooled heat pump chiller array "combined with new boilers and reheat coils to enable heating, cooling and dehumidification."
While that may sound like a good solution to a “heated” problem at a school which was quite over budget when being rebuilt, my big question about this cluster is WHO is accountable? Is it Dan Watson, GPS Facilities Director? Blaize Leviton, the GPS COO? Is it someone else? The Ham Ave HVAC system situation is, yet another example of a GPS facilities failure.
Who approved the purchase of a system which no one knew how to use and maintain? How did that happen?! Is it just me or does anyone else see the multiple and costly problems which continue to arise on GPS properties due to lack to planning — specifically forethought and regular maintenance?! How many millions has it cost our Town and taxpayers to “fix” these blunders?
Think: Parkway Well Water (now an issue again because 8 years ago, GPS wouldn’t consider a new pump & filtration system); Cos Cob broken pipe & flood; North Mianus water leak & ceiling collapse; WMS fields closed for a decade; CMS temporarily closed for structural issues; GHS bleachers condemned for structural insecurity; and these are only the major facilities problems that I know of. I’m sure there are plenty more as I’ve only lived here since June 2012.
Fun Facts: GPS has spent $854 million since 2006 exclusively on new facilities and maintenance (capital budget). Spending on salaries and operations (operation budget) has been an additional $3.9 billion — that’s a total of $4.7 billion on education, which equates to an average of $390k/K-12 student. Mind you, that doesn’t include the $80 billion of state unfunded pension liabilities. If you haven’t already done the math, 48% of our town’s budget is spent on GPS, yet certain BOE members still rally the PTAs to bring children with placards to keep asking for more money. (See chart.)
Spending a significant amount of money on GPS doesn’t bother me — if it actually is going towards excellence in education for our kids while keeping them in safe, updated, & appropriate facilities. However, when over $800M has gone towards fixing mismanaged blunders, “vanity spending” (such as failed GeoThermal & Solar powered systems,) and overbuilding — all of which are consequences from lack of proper facilities planning & appropriate management, then I see that as a massive problem and misappropriation of taxpayers’ money.
Then there is, what I refer to as the “Deflection Narrative Game” that certain GPS administrators like to play. Instead of owning any responsibility whatsoever, GPS administrative leaders point fingers at the Republican BET members, claiming they (and ALL Republicans) are “anti-schools and anti-spending”. This false narrative is just a massive distraction of this reality: lack of maintenance planning on behalf of GPS has consistently led to unnecessary expenses which could have been prevented by having a proper maintenance schedule implemented and followed.
Bottom line: if we want this type of irresponsible management of our school facilities to stop, we need to hold the responsible person/organization/people publicly accountable. We need to make a change to our GPS administrative leadership, or this pattern will not change.
Maybe it’s time to FOIA the GPS Facilities Department’s Building Maintenance schedule because we must have accountability.