It’s what one contractor on site called “the fastest install I’ve ever seen.”

Not only have the temporary classrooms been installed at Miller-Driscoll Elementary School but the exterior of the school is remarkably pristine-looking, considering a little more than one week ago it was an active construction site complete with a crane and cement mixers.

The drop-off area is freshly painted and clearly marked, and pathways are paved and hay is covering areas where grass seed has been spread. There are even benches waiting for people to sit down. Everything looks ready to go for today’s first day of school.

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School officials got their first up-close glimpse of the temporary classrooms last Thursday morning, Aug. 27, when they toured the modular classrooms. The Board of Education members, superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith, and first selectman Bill Brennan accompanied Bruce Hampson and Karen Birck, co-chairs of the Miller-Driscoll building committee, on a walk-through of the portable classrooms that have been set up in preparation for the renovation project to begin in January of 2016.

“The walk-through was great,” says BoE chair Bruce Likly. “It was amazing. As a board, although we saw the designs on paper, we didn’t get as good an appreciation as we did on the walk-through of how amazing the classrooms are. They’re big, they’re bright, they’re airy. They’re great classrooms. They’re as nice as any of the nicest classrooms we have in the district.”

He added that he thought the second graders are going to be “thrilled” when they move into the modular rooms.

Although the installation of the temporaries happened just this month, the classrooms aren’t due to be occupied until after winter break, in January. That’s when the construction on the new addition will begin.

The portable classrooms were installed on the south side of the school property, and they were connected to the school building by a hallway that was constructed at the same time as the modular classrooms were put in.

“The way it’s attached to the school, it’s a fully-enclosed hallway that looks and feels like any other hallway. If you weren’t looking, I don’t think you’d know you were in a temporary classroom environment. You’d just think you were in a new wing. That’s pretty neat,” Likly adds.

The pictures of the walk-through, which Likly supplied to GOOD Morning Wilton, show the classrooms at their very bare-bones; he agreed that right now it takes a bit of imagination to see what they’ll look like once they’re fully operational and set up and occupied by students⎯which, he stresses, won’t be until January of next year.

“They’re still under construction. What’s really remarkable is that when I took those pictures, there wasn’t any electricity in there yet, and there was no lighting. All of the lighting is natural light coming in through the windows,” Likly says.

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Having been involved in planning and discussions on this project for years now, Likly says it’s gratifying to see it really start to happen.

“It is, and I’m thrilled⎯but I’m going to be more thrilled when 2017 rolls around and it’s all done. But I am happy to see that everything is either on budget or under budget, and we’ve known that all along. We’ve had to be conservative on our estimates because, when you go to bonding, you have to paint the worse case scenario. But I absolutely anticipate the whole project is going to come in under budget,” Likly says.

He acknowledges that some parents may have concerns that, with school starting today, it’s much more clear that M-D has become a construction site, and that parents will want to be reassured that school administrators, teachers and officials are all working to keep things as normal⎯and as educationally sound⎯as possible.

“That’s a concern the BoE takes seriously as well. We’ve discussed that and we want to make sure the construction area is cordoned off from the student area. There will be physical fences and barriers so there’s no way a child can wander into any part of the construction area. We’ll also make sure that the people on site have gone through the same background checks that our people in Wilton’s schools go through,” Likly answers.

One thing that will be harder to control is the noise impact.

“Sadly, we’re not going to be able to stop all the noise. It is going to be a construction zone,” Likly concedes. “But they are looking at trying to minimize the noise to the extent possible by putting up additional soundproofing. They’re looking at trying to reposition some of the classrooms in the out years so that it would be specials using the rooms closest to construction. That may not be possible in all cases.”

The team has been involved in other school construction projects, and they have experience with soundproofing and trying to keep the noisier work away from students and learning time. Anecdotally, he says, “What they’ve found is that the general construction site noise turns into white noise for students and staff relatively quickly, and it fades into the background.”

He adds that the district will be as responsive as possible, and respond quickly to whatever situation arises. “This is a very responsive administration and board. We all want it to be the best possible environment.”

Overall, Likly hopes parents and other Wilton residents will be as excited as the BoE is.

“The level of thought and preparation that has gone into this. The cleanliness and organization of the construction site I think will impress people. It’s a highly-professional, well-executed plan coming together,” he says.

He also hopes that residents will get a similar up-close look at the progress, just as the BoE members have. “We’re currently talking about ways to do that,” Likly says, and adds that while there’s nothing finalized yet, they’re discussing some ideas.

Everyone is Looking Forward to the Start of the School Year

Likly says the board is just as excited about the first day of school as everyone else.

“The first day of school is such an exciting time⎯for every child and for every family. Moms and dads approach the day with the same level of enthusiasm, excitement, and a little apprehension that the kids do. You feel it throughout every year. I have one child who’s going to be a WHS sophomore and one child who’s going to be in 7th grade. It’s exciting⎯there’s back-to-school shopping, supply shopping, being reunited with friends. It’s an exciting time, and to see how that excitement is carrying through to the administrators and teachers⎯it’s really, really neat,” he says.