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LETTER: Only 'One Chance to Do the Right Thing' With 200 Tyler Street

Dave Hausler, a member of the task force that explored options for the old East Haven High School, proposes the best future use for the site is to renovate and reopen it as a school, allowing the district to reduce the number of buildings it now operates.

(Editor's Note: The following is a written statement by Dave Hausler, who prepared the remarks as part of his presentation at on 200 Tyler Street. Additionally, the educational use committee's recently updated and revised proposal — which has been submitted by Hausler to the Town Council and Board of Education for their review — is attached to this post. It can also be found here.)

To the Editor:

I will briefly summarize a plan that was prepared with many hours of effort over the course of several years.  I served on the Committee that produced the educational plan for the revitalization of 200 Tyler Street.  That committee was made up of former educators, members of both political parties, and past members of the School Building Committee.

I will present the facts we found, then make a few assumptions, and finally present the conclusion our committee found.  

First, the facts.  The committee first looked to the current configuration of the school district, and how it compares to other districts in the state.  We looked at five schools that had elementary school enrollment that was within plus or minus 50 students of East Haven's enrollment.  We counted how many buildings housed each district's elementary students, and then looked at the cost to operate the schools in each of the five districts.

We found that East Haven operates more elementary schools and pays more in combined adminstration, building and maintenance costs per student than any other district with the same size enrollment.  The additional expense costs the town as much as $2 Million dollars per year.  These costs, as far back as state records show publicly, have increased on average 7% annually.

For all that we spend above and beyond other towns our size, what value do we get for our money?  Our district performs under state averages by many measures, resulting in our designation as an "Alliance District", a reflection that we among the worst performing school systems in the state.

Now, the assumptions.  In order to stop the continued expense of operating 6 elementary schools, we need to consolidate into fewer buildings.  When we look at the existing system, our largest buildings are underused, and many need significant renovations.  The best way to get state assistance for renovation is through education construction grants.  Our designation as an "Alliance District" makes East Haven eligible for 69% reimbursement toward any school construction project.  This was confirmed this past month by Representative James Albis, who checked with the Governor's office.

The committee believed that 200 Tyler Street was the perfect building to begin a long-term redistricting plan, because of its size and its central location in town.  Renovating 200 Tyler Street would allow for the emptying and renovation of the Melillo campus without buying temporary classrooms.  Once these two projects are completed, the Board of Ed could close whichever buildings it sees fit.  We estimated that design and construction for 200 Tyler Street and Melillo would take six years.  

The committee gathered existing estimates for the renovation, and solicited new ones from a structural engineer.  A rough estimate for 200 Tyler Street was $250 per square foot, which we estimated at 96,000 square feet by selectively renovating the best sections of the building only.  The total cost for 200 Tyler Street would be $24 Million dollars.  A recent estimate collected by the BoE put the cost of renovating Mellilo at $24 Million dollars.  Rounding off the two projects, the total cost can be estimated at $50 million dollars conservatively.

At 69% reimbursement, the taxpayer cost of the two projects can be estimated at $15.5 Million dollars.  The town recently completed payment of the bond for the construction of the new high school, a 7.2 million bond which took 13 years to pay off.  Based on these figures, we estimate that the bond for this project would likely be repaid in 20 years or less.

Meanwhile, once the 6 years of construction are finished, and with the closure of 2 elementary school buildings, East Haven will begin saving $2 Million dollars per year in school operating costs.  Those costs, remember, have been increasing 7% on average every year.  The committee believes the town will actually break even on the project before the bond is paid.

In conclusion, we only get one chance to do the right thing with the property at 200 Tyler Street.  No other property this size and in such good location is likely to be found in East Haven.  I ask the Town Council to work with the Mayor's office and the Board of Education towards the only plan that uses this building to save future generations millions of dollars in needless operating expense.

Dave Hausler

Sam Giglio September 05, 2012 at 10:02 AM
Making a plan like this work, will take a joint effort from the Mayor, BOE, and other Town Officials. Very hard to try to get the msg. out in a two minute presentation. The plan is only a guild of how this building can fit into the process. We need to educate the Town Folks that doing this today will save money in the big picture for the future of our Town. Look no one wants to keep borrowing money to move forward but how else can you do it? Someone needs to show me a Town anywere in this Country or State that pays cash in full to repair ,build, or Renovate any school project. Then we need to talk to them to see how they do it. The building has been empty for a long time so lets hope we can still have the time to put together the best plan for the Town. The BOE NEEDS TO GET A PLAN , every year in April thay come before the TC looking for more and more with out a plan. All of us need an open mind, not just to say no but to hear and see how we as a Town can make the right choice. One thing i must say it was good to see many Town Folks at the meeting no matter what they had to say it shows they care.
Dave Hausler September 05, 2012 at 10:37 AM
The turnout at the meeting was great. We heard residents speak in favor of many options. Some challenged the wisdom of this plan to bond money to repair 200 Tyler Street and the Mellilo campus. They are rightly concerned that they cannot afford to pay more taxes in this economy, and I completely agree. With that in mind, I hope to reach out to the town finance director and try to get a more accurate figure of what it will cost the average taxpayer to bond the projects. Then we can compare that to the continued cost of operating our oversized school system for the next 20 years. If there were 11,356 households in East Haven in 2008 (according to our CERC town profile), then each household pays $176 per year to keep those extra buildings open today. Fast forward 10 years, assuming a modest 5% growth rate in those expenses each year, and that number becomes $286 per household. In 20 years, the figure becomes $403 per household. If the bonding option costs less over that time, it should be seriously considered. That's what I will try to find out. No matter what we decide to do with 200 Tyler Street, every taxpayer needs to understand what we pay today, and will continue to pay, more every year, unless we finish the job of consolidating the district down to an appropriate size for our town. This is one option. We should explore all options, and ask our town leaders for a plan.
Lou September 05, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Finally, a voice of reason. Nice job Mr. Hausler! I am really not in favor of bonding. However, what I would like to see is a simple spreadsheet projecting our current costs over the next 20 yrs vs the cost of a 20 yr. bond. Many people in this town have a political agenda and I can understand that, but we have to do what is right for EH. What people should be doing is looking at this like it was their own home renovation. Do we finance, pay cash, or do nothing. A couple of stright forward calculations involving net present value, internal rate of return, and payback period should give us a clearer picture on what is best for EH.
Flowers September 05, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Nice report Dave. Actual facts instead of the ranting that others usually posted on these sites. Are there other ways to fix the BOE inefficiencies quicker?
Dave Hausler September 05, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Flowers- There are probably other options to fix the problems within the district.. One of the reasons the committee is passionate about the proposal is that we are waiting to hear the BoE's long-term plan. We presented this proposal to the board at a recent meeting, and have offered our support in fleshing out the details of any redistricting plan, whether or not it includes the use of 200 Tyler Street. What is clear is that the current configuration is unsustainable. When people complain about not being able to pay more taxes, they need to consider the cost of doing nothing, because that will surely result in higher taxes in the long run.
Dave Hausler September 05, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Lou- I will be posting a series of blog entries going into the details of specific points in the proposal. A lot of the information was taken from the state Department of Education website, from an online database called "CEDaR". Getting data out of that system is pretty easy if you are looking for just one statistic, such as enrollment or test scores. It's when you want to combine different data elements that it gets tricky. I am also working on getting a different level of access to that data, to facilitate the redistricting discussion. As for the estimates of work, they're just that. Some were official, and some were ballpark. We would need to send out fresh RFP's for both properties to get updated estimates. Then there's the bonding. I have limited insight into historical bond costs from the town financial reports, but to get to a real idea of the cost of bonding and what that could mean in terms of a mill rate increase or cost per household, I need the help of the town finance office. In short, there's a lot of work to be done.
Lou September 05, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Dave I am an accountant and a number guru by trade and would love to help if needed.
Gene Ruocco September 05, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Dave thank you for your insight into a plan that will help this town for many years to come, your presentation last night was right to the point. The committee we served on that produced this plan made me very proud. I felt then and do now, that your input was so important to the future of East Haven with the use of 200 Tyler Street. Speaking for the committee, if we need to reconvene to gather more information just say the word and everyone will be there in an instant. Let’s hope the town council will hold more meetings like the one last night and East Haven can move forward with a plan that we can all be proud of. Thank you again for a great job.

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