School leaders balk at cost to move

The cost to move the New Milford Board of Education's central offices from the Catherine E. Lillis Administration Building on East Street to Pettibone School on Pickett District Road has been estimated at just more than $1 million.

That price would make the relocation unlikely, board members have said.

School district facilities manager John Calhoun was told last summer to get preliminary engineering drawings and prices to re-configure about 12,500 square feet of Pettibone School, a space similar to what they have now to house the administrative offices.

The $1 millions price would not include moving costs and $20,000 or more to transfer the district's centralized technology network.

At Feb. 17's Operations Committee meeting, Mr. Calhoun said there might be some ways to save money, including installing window air-conditioning units instead of central air conditioning.

A majority of the cost would be for electrical outfitting, meeting current building code and handicap accessibility requirements, and the construction necessary to keep the school and office complex separate.

The idea of making renovations at other schools had been previously dismissed because they lacked space and adding on would be expensive.

School board member William Wellman has long been an advocate of abandoning the East Street building because the edifice requires considerable maintenance.

He thinks relocating to one of the district's existing schools might be more cost-efficient.

Mr. Wellman was dismayed, however, the estimate to move was so high. He said he had hoped for a more "bare-bones'' renovation.

Board member Tom McSherry said he wants to know whether a move from the East Street building the district shares with the town's Youth Agency would save the district money over time.

He suggested it might be more cost-efficient to renovate the historic landmark rather than relocate.

The annual cost of operating the East Street building is about $100,000.

The proposed school budget for the coming year includes $115,000 for the first phase of a window replacement project there.

Mr. McSherry noted any talk about the school board abandoning the building needs to involve town leaders.

He said they would need to decide what would happen to the building if the district were to no longer use the space.

School board member Rod Weinberg said he is "frightened'' by the cost estimate for a move to Pettibone.

"We all know we don't have that,'' he said.

Mr. McSherry said he believes the school board and the town need to look at the "big picture.''

"No one wants an empty building on East Street,'' he said.