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BETHEL School renovation plans detailed

May 23, 2018 GMT

BETHEL — The upcoming renovations to Rockwell and Johnson elementary schools will cause minimal disruptions, officials say, although some students will have classes in portables and take gym in regular classrooms.

Superintendent Christine Carver and representatives from Rizzo Construction Corp. outlined for at least 40 parents Tuesday evening the timing and logistics of the $65.8 million project, which will begin in earnest around October and take about two years.

“Johnson and Rockwell schools are your home, your children’s home,” said Anthony Rizzo, head of Rizzo Construction. “We, as the contractors, are visitors. Our job is to make sure that it’s business as usual.”

For the most part, officials said, that will be the case.

Students will likely hear some construction noise, but crews plan to do the loudest work outside school hours or during weekends and vacations. Workers will also park off-site and deliveries will be timed to avoid recess and drop-off times.

The playgrounds will remain accessible and traffic patterns around the schools will not change.

The school year will be adjusted, however, to maximize summer construction time. Next academic year, classes will start Aug. 29 and end June 7, barring any snow days. The following year, school will begin the Tuesday after Labor Day.

“I’m saying a prayer that we do not have weather next year like we did this year,” Carver said.

At points during the renovations, students will need to take “special” classes such as art or music in their regular classroom.

For example, Johnson students will be unable to access the gym for several months during the first year of construction. Instead, physical education will be held outside, in classrooms, in the cafeteria or in the new body and brain lab.

“We just have to think outside the box a little bit,” Johnson Principal Alison Salerno said.

At Rockwell, crews will set up two portables with 12 rooms each, bathrooms, heat, air conditioning and an intercom system connected to the main building. Johnson will not have portables.

When students return to Rockwell in the winter of 2019, the second floor, including the library, will be vacated and second- and third-graders will move to the portables, set up like their rooms in the main building, Carver said. Kindergarten and first-graders will move to the portables when work begins on the first floor in the fall of 2019.

Parents were unhappy that students in the portables would have to put on their coats and gloves and walk outside to go to lunch or special classes in the main building. But officials assured them that the walkway to the portables will be covered and fenced in for safety. The portables will also have cameras and be locked.

Parents were also concerned about how construction workers will be vetted.

Rizzo said crews will undergo fingerprinting and a yearly background check and will be required to wear badges on site. This is the same process Rizzo implemented for projects at Danbury High School and Sikorsky Aircraft.

“Our primary concern is the safety of the students that are there, the safety of the faculty and the safety of the parents who are coming in and out of the building,” Rizzo said.

Rockwell and Berry elementary schools now include students up to third grade, but Rockwell third-graders will move into the renovated first floor of Johnson in the fall of 2019. Third-graders from Berry will not move into Johnson until the fall of 2020.

Carver urged parents to contact her, the elementary principals or Rizzo with questions.

“If there’s anything you’re concerned about with regards to construction, just talk to us,” Carver said. “The earlier we know things, we can nip things in the bud and hopefully address things right away, so it doesn’t exacerbate or become a bigger problem.”