What just six weeks ago was an elementary school campus bubbling with sounds of children learning and educators teaching, Miller-Driscoll is now a full-on construction site crawling with close to 200 construction workers, engineers and architects moving quickly to complete the current stage of the school’s renovation.
On Thursday afternoon, July 29, project manager Mike Douyard took a handful of Miller-Driscoll building committee members and GOOD Morning Wilton on a tour of the building site to showed the progress that’s been made thus far. Chris Burney, Wilton’s director of facilities and energy management, accompanied the group along with Ozlem Caglar, the project’s construction architect.
Caglar is the person who Douyard calls first when something on the plans needs adjusting or changing if something arises in the project that wasn’t anticipated. “If we find something we didn’t know, or we’re off a couple inches…or feet,” he says, half jokingly, “then we call her and come up with a solution and then move on.” She’s also the person who knows almost every room, classroom, hallway and windowpane by heart.
The 187 people working at the site typically work 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays. “No Sundays yet,” Douyard says, implying that they’ll work Sundays if they have to race to hit time deadlines. They had started the summer work immediately after the school year ended, even working double-shifts (7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and 3:30-11 p.m.) for the first three weeks until the evening noise disrupted a nearby residence. Once they can begin quieter, interior work like painting, ceiling tiling and more in about a week, they’ll be able to go back to double shifts once again.
One thing the group discusses throughout the tour is that the portions of the new construction areas will not be completed by the time school starts. From the front of the building where students enter, and the portions where students will be learning again in the fall, there will be little noticeable change. Parents who might be expecting the project to have been completed over the summer should know that the bulk of the work on this current phase is concentrated on the rear side of the school. It’s still a significant amount of work done over the summer—Douyard and Burney say it will represent 60-percent of the entire project completed by the end of October when this phase is scheduled to end and the next begins.
In fact, the major changes to the front entrance and the front of the building won’t be completed until the very end of the project, in September 2017. When students return in September, the areas they’ll occupy will be the same ones occupied at the close of the last school year. That doesn’t mean that work hasn’t been done, it’s just all primarily concentrated in the newer additions, behind barriers where the public can’t access.
“We’re only just over halfway through the construction for the summer,” says Burney. “We have a major [part of the] project to finish over next summer. It’s not as much as this summer, but it’s still a lot of work.”
Douyard adds, “By the end of this year, it’s 60-to-65 percent done. It’s a phased construction where different things get done in different areas at separate times, so the school can still function as an elementary school. One of the things we strive to do is take on more so that there will be less disruption. We have taken on a tremendous amount more this summer.”
The expectation is that teachers will be able to begin setting up their classrooms when they return on Aug. 30.
Mandi Schmauch, a parent representative on the building committee, was pleased with what she saw on the tour.
“As a taxpayer and mom of a Miller Driscoll student, it is great to see our taxpayer dollars be utilized to create such an important asset for both our students and our town. I am pleased to see that construction is on schedule and the renovations and additions to MD look great. Although there is still a lot of work to be completed in the summer of 2017 until the school is totally done, the tour today gave me further confidence in the success of the project.”
Exterior: Pre-K Wing
The first spot Douyard leads us to is outside what will be the new, separate Pre-K entrance. Colorful glass windowpanes front the entrance and a gleaming wall of copper siding stands tall at the end. The copper will also be used further around the side of the building, and in several other accent spots as well.
The team had originally planned on using zinc paneling, but when they found that the price of copper was close enough to what zinc would have cost, they opted to go with the more durable, longer-lasting copper instead. Caglar says it’s also a softer metal that’s easier to work with. The copper will eventually weather to a brown color close to the color of the building’s brick exterior.
Exterior: Cafeteria and Building Rear
Continuing around to the back Douyard shows the group the kitchen and cafeterias. Copper siding will extend around the back here as well.
The playground and play yard will be accessible from the cafeteria and the Driscoll side of the building, and fenced off from the access road.
Interior: The New Addition
Walking into the corridor of the new construction, Douyard shows the group some of the new classrooms as well as the cafeterias and the kitchen.
The classrooms are at the stage where sheet rock, millwork and cabinetry will soon make the classrooms look more like classrooms. They will soon install the ceiling tiles and flooring. The new addition is completely connected to utilities at this point, with electric and power available as of mid July. Douyard even expects to be able to turn air conditioning on as soon as all the windows are in, within the next two weeks.
“It moves fast, especially with 187 guys on the job,” he says. “It doesn’t take much now.”
This portion of the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of October. Depending on when school administrators can schedule move in from some of the Driscoll section that is scheduled for the next phase, the new addition will be usable and completed by that point. School administrators will plan to schedule the transition at a point that causes the least disruption to the students, according to Douyard.
Interior: Outdoor Learning Commons
Douyard walks us to a hallway that links the building to the Miller side of the existing portion. From here we can view the inside courtyard that is the renovated Outdoor Learning Commons. Already installed is a running, babbling stream with waterfalls, as well as raised plant beds. The area has been redesigned to maximize learning space.
At the Miller side end of the new addition hallway is the connection to the Pre-K area. The ramp down to the Pre-K was designed as not only a distinct separator from the elementary school but also as a much more accessible entrance.
Classroom areas as well as offices, occupational and speech therapy areas are still mid-construction. There are areas where workmen will soon be able to start painting and installing ceiling tiles.
Enclosed observation areas have been built for each of the areas where students will be, allowing therapists and other observers to view the children without distracting them.
Renovation work is also in progress on the Miller side of the building, including both structural (new windows, HVAC, etc.) as well as cosmetic changes (new ceilings, new flooring, patching, etc.). Any necessary abatement work has also been done and completed in this space. Douyard says that in any space where renovation gets done, occasionally workers will find uncover something they didn’t anticipate that requires creative thinking by the design and engineering team to correct whatever issue it creates.
“There’s been nothing that I wouldn’t have expected,” he says, because such instances frequently happen on renovation jobs. “Some things take a little more time, you have to bring the engineer out, he has to make sketches, you have to do some shop and fabrication drawings for steel. Things like that take time, and you try to work around it.”
We follow Douyard up the stairwell that existed from the “old” building, leading upstairs to the old Yellow Core. One of those “unanticipated” finds was uncovered here in a few places: gaps between the ceiling and the roof, above the classrooms walls and the hallway, which is a fire hazard because fire and smoke would be able to travel between those spaces much more rapidly. Those things have to be fixed before planned work can continue in those spots. In this case, additional sheetrock has to be added to close the gap and create a smoke barrier.
“You find a lot of these, especially in fire code, when things get updated,” Douyard says.
There is a lot of work to be done patching and adding new drywall to make cosmetic repairs in many areas of the Miller interior. “When you take off chalkboards and do abatement, then you have to,” he notes.
What’s most stunning in this part of the project, is that these areas will be completed by Aug. 26 and ready for teachers and students. The workers on the job are moving fast. “We were here last night, and the difference in just one day is noticeable,” says Burney.
Douyard agrees. “We’ve got a good team. We know what it takes to finish. The fire marshall and inspector are around a lot,” he says, indicating they come frequently to approve one area of work so that the project can keep moving forward to the next area.
At what used to be the entrance to the hallway leading to the old Pre-K area is now a closed barrier. Behind that, says Douyard, abatement and removal of any remaining PCBs and asbestos will happen and then the part of the building that housed the old Pre-K area will be torn down. That demolition work will be completed by the middle to end of August.
Interior: Hallway to New Addition
In Miller’s old “Blue Core,” in the same spot where the hallway to the old “Peach Core” used to be is now a new hallway connecting the older building to the new addition. This, says Douyard, was the “tricky part.”
“We always knew that this would be difficult. There was a lot of work done right here. There was asbestos abatement that we had to wait for; then rip out the foundations for where the concrete ended there to where the concrete ends here, and then we had to put new foundation in; run a tremendous amount of conduit that runs all the power from the new electrical room; re-pour all the slabs and start building it back in again,” he describes. “This will be one of the last pushes.”
The hall will be closed up with drywall when students return, so that they won’t be able to access the new addition until that part of the project is completed and the school administration moves people into it.
Exterior: The Bus Loop and the Front of the School
Moving back outside, now to the front of the school the most significant change is to the bus loop. Also, the front playground has been dismantled. A small wall has been built where some landscaping and a flagpole will be placed.
Douyard promises that the area, including repaving the entrance to the school parking areas will be returned to a “non-construction” state, with reseeding of lawn done and a bus loop that will be a ready to accept children clamoring into school on the first day. Parent drop-off will be located in the same spots as they were last year, for now. (They will be different once the project is entirely completed in September 2017.)
All construction areas will be walled off and again inaccessible to all children and members of the public, also.
Parents won’t see much difference from the front: The office is still the same, and the Driscoll side looks the same. Those changes won’t happen until next year, when the administrative offices are renovated and a new, single entrance is created in the front, rather than keep the two current side entrances to the office. The only changes on the Driscoll side that were done over this summer was on the gymnasium, where a new roof was installed and a new HVAC unit put in.