Ridgefield Board of Education approves five-year capital budget

Removing and replacing 30-year-old oil tanks at Farmingville, Branchville and Ridgebury elementary schools might cost slightly more than originally expected but that wasn’t enough to deter Ridgefield’s Board of Education from approving a $3.2-million request for capital improvement projects next school year.

Before unanimously approving the five-year capital budget at the board’s Dec. 9 meeting, Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis noted the plan is reviewed annually and revised to address shifts in priorities — ranging from infrastructure needs to security to health and safety to environmental and code compliancy.

“We realize that the request from the administration is higher than the recent past,” said Stamatis. “This year, the Board of Education asked the administration to provide us the list of needs without restricting itself to the typical expenditure range goal of $1.5 to $2.5 million.”

In addition to the oil tank removals and replacements, asbestos abatement and floor retiling are planned at Scotland and Branchville. The three “environmental and code compliancy” projects are listed in the plan total $747,650.

The biggest request is for $1,043,087 in building improvement projects — auditorium upgrades at East Ridge Middle School and Ridgefield High School, as well as Barlow Mountain and Scotland elementary schools. There’s also well infrastructure improvements listed at Branchville and Farmingville and LED lighting upgrades at Ridgebury.

Stamatis recalled it was just last year when there was heightened awareness by the finance board and the selectmen toward the school facilities — both inside and out, and that the school board needs additional resources to address those improvements.

“We have to keep our students and staff safe in the schools, so the school security and surveillance items, and fire and life safety items are critical,” Stamatis said.

It was also noted that environmental and code compliancy projects, like the oil tank removal and asbestos abatement, are either legally required this year or have been in the plan for years.

“We’re thankful to the BOS and BOF for their support of the school capital requests last year. But we still have much work to do: some that has been identified in the long-range plan for years, some that is a result of the deferral of projects due to lack of funding, and much that is just what we need to do to keep our students and staff safe in our buildings,” said Stamatis.