After several years of meeting, planning, budgeting, spending, saving, debating, (a little disagreeing), drafting and constructing, the renovation of Miller-Driscoll Elementary School is, believe it or not, nearing the finish line.
In anticipation of the construction phase of the project coming to a close, in order to be ready before the first day of the 2017-18 school year, GOOD Morning Wilton was granted a tour to get a first look at how it’s all shaping up.
“The project is finishing up right on schedule, says Michael Douyard, the Turner Construction project manager who has been overseeing the project. “Outside, what you see in the front is really all we have left. All the skylights are done, except the front canopy–that will be green,” he explains, referencing the project’s roofline that is colorfully well-suited for a school for Wilton’s littlest learners, with each triangular skylight jutting into the sky a different color.
Even though there are clear signs that work is still underway, Douyard assures parents that they can get done what needs to be done in the next two weeks.
“School will open on time. It will be safe, finished and inspected. The teachers will have more time to set up this year than they did last year. School will open and there won’t be any major construction going on this school year. There may be some things we have to do on off hours, on Saturdays or evenings–whether it’s punch list or the M-D Building Committee wants to move around or add. Turner staff will be here through December, on a daily basis, and occasionally contractors. But it won’t be like last year, with 70-80 guys on the job while school is in session,” he says.
Much of the work had been completed before the summer started–the new pre-K wing and entrance, the new cafeteria and hallway, and the construction on the Miller side of the building had been completed before this summer. The focus this summer were a handful of classrooms on the Driscoll side, the front administrative office, the gym/all purpose room and parking area in the front.
In fact, there’s very little major construction equipment remaining outside, save for a couple of smaller bulldozers and lifts. What is left to do will get accomplished quickly. The new parking lot in the front along Wolfpit Rd. will be paved starting next Monday, Aug. 14. There is a little more copper cladding that descends from the roofline to finish putting up around the front of the building. Douyard says there’s a small amount of work remaining to do on the building’s roof; and near the front entrance, the personalized bricks that had formed the walkways into the old entrances–all of which had been neatly extracted and saved before work started–need to be relaid.
The most striking change is the new entrance to the school. Gone are the main office’s two side doors that anyone could use to walk right in to building unchecked. Now, the primary way into the school is through a set of double doors that were added where the main office’s front window used to be. Those doors lead into a vestibule entirely surrounding by bullet-proof glass. Visitors can’t make their way into the school without getting buzzed in by someone in the administrative area.
The main office stands ready for administrators to begin moving back in–and that actually starts to happen next week, on Monday, Aug. 14 as well. Teachers will start moving back into their classrooms on Monday, Aug. 28. Many of the classrooms are ready for teachers already; there are only six classrooms left to finish up with carpeting, fixtures, millwork, furniture and the last remaining ceiling tiles–and then they’ll be ready too. Again, Douyard says they’ll be good to go in time.
Much of the work that was done this summer, of course, isn’t even visible to the casual observer. The building is now fully equipped with emergency sprinklers. Everything is up to date–brand new carpet, brand new HVAC systems. Bathrooms were restored and upgraded. All ceiling tiles have been replaced and new windows installed. There’s been new storage space that was added. The gym floor has been sealed. And all classrooms have new, larger windows that make them brighter.
In fact, the overall impact is that everything is brighter. Even though the Driscoll side has original structure that’s brick and looks different–and darker hued–than the Miller side, the whole place is lighter and brighter. And the core of each pod will be color coordinated to match the skylight above, with new lockers and floor tiles that all match.
Another change people will notice right away is the new furniture. “Every classroom, every office gets some new furniture. There are some places where we tried to reuse, but we made strategic decisions–like every child will have a new chair, and there will be new workstations for the kids. It just didn’t seem equitable to do it any other way,” explains Christopher Burney the facilities director for Wilton who adds, “Besides, what was here was’t in the best of condition.”
There are other signs that the project is coming to an end: the large storage boxes outside will be removed next week. And the portable classrooms are gone. That side area will be filled in and reseeded before the start of school.
For Douyard, he’s not celebrating yet.
“It’s hard to enjoy it right now, because there’s a lot to do in a very short period of time, so you don’t really think about it, until a couple of months after,” he says. “School work is hard because we have to bring the kids in. It’s a lot of long hours, and constant communication. I’m not thinking about the end of the job now–I’m thinking about the paver, and the painter and the movers–making sure everything is right by the time people come back. The biggest compliment is when its seamless and no one knows,” he says.
“Almost every other project I’ve worked on, you can change schools’ finish date. Here you can’t do that. The school opens when school opens,” says Burney.
And when school does open and the kids, parents, teachers and the wider community are eager to see the finished project?
“I just hope people think it was worth it,” Burney says. “I know the students will, and I know the parents will.”