Close to half a million dollars — $494,320 — to repair leaky fire sprinklers at Ridgefield High School made it through a gauntlet of approvals in the last week — school board, selectmen, finance board. But not everyone was happy.

“I am concerned about not having a project of this size go out for bid,” said Selectman Bob Hebert.

Sprinkler repair work had already begun and the firm doing the project, M. J. Daly Engineers, was originally to be paid out of the current year’s school operating budget, school facilities director Joe Morits said. The project in question is essentially an expansion of that project to include all needed repairs — so the firm already fixing the sprinklers will have its work orders expanded, rather than rebidding the job.

The addition of $494,320 for the RHS sprinkler system repairs pushed the town’s 2020-21 capital budget — larger projects and purchases, paid for borrowing — from $7,237,000 up to $7,732,000.

With the sprinkler project added, the capital budget passed its final hurdles last week: approvals by the Board of Selectmen and then the Board of Finance.

Under the special procedures spelled out in Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders on municipal operations during the COVID-19 crisis, last week’s approval by the selectmen and finance boards makes the capital budget final — just as the $150 million town and school operating budget for 2020-21 became final May 21 with the two boards’ approval.

Ridgefield Town Hall Photo: Macklin Reid /
Photo: Macklin Reid /

Ridgefield Town Hall

No gathering of voters for either the Annual Town Meeting or the annual budget referendum is required for enactment of capital or operating budgets this year.

Final voting on the $7.7 million capital budget was held up until last week by the addition of the sprinkler system money, with the selectmen approving it Wednesday night, followed by the finance board Friday afternoon.

The leaks being addressed don’t make the system dysfunctional, but they are leaks and that’s a problem.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi spelled out the need a letter asking that the finance board approve the $494,320: “This amount is needed to address a Town of Ridgefield Fire Marshal order to abate a serious condition found to exist as a result of a thorough investigation of the fire suppression system at Ridgefield High School,” Marconi wrote.

The leaks have to do with the pipe and the joints. The leaking joints aren’t something new — they’re an on-going problem that was starting to show as far back as the $90 million “school bundle” repair initiative of the early 2000s.

“This is an issue that’s been developing since the bundle,” Morits said. “There were some concerns back then with the size of the pipe and threading of the pipe and reducing the wall thickness of the pipe…

“It’s not a new condition,” Morits said. “...It’s just been an issue that’s been managed.”

Marconi said the sprinkler system had pipe that would no longer meet code.

“Schedule 20 is a thinner wall pipe that is not code today,” he said. “All of that will be replaced with schedule 40, which is a thicker wall...

“All those joints have developed leaks over the years,” Marconi said, “and it’s in pretty bad shape.”