Year In Review: The Newtown High School Auditorium Project

Published: December 30, 2017 at 12:00 am


A view of the auditorium looking toward the stage on July 21 as work on the renovation project was underway.  (Bee file photo)
A view of the auditorium looking toward the stage on July 21 as work on the renovation project was underway. (Bee file photo)
Almost a year ago, the Board of Education was waiting on news for when the Newtown High School auditorium renovation project would begin. Since then, the project has been building to its conclusion, now expected by the time students return to school from winter break.

In mid-January of 2017, NHS Choral Director Jane Matson announced the spring's musical would be Evita, which shares the story Eva and Juan Perón's rise to power to become president and first lady of Argentina after World War II. With construction on the auditorium then slated to begin imminently, the musical needed a venue. Evita needed to be rehearsed and sets built and brought to the venue just before performances, rather than built and rehearsed in advance as would normally take place in the NHS auditorium. The musical later found a venue at Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel.

At its meeting on February 7, the Board of Education learned construction on the project would begin that month.

One month later, Geralyn Hoerauf, senior project manager for the firm STV-DPM, and Public Building and Site Commission (PBSC) Chair Robert Mitchell informed the school board at its meeting on March 7, that soft demolition of the project was complete.

Nearly one month later, on April 4, Mr Mitchell shared at a school board meeting that demolition was nearly complete.

Later that month the second phase of the project - $750,000 more than the roughly $3.6 million project - was approved by voters at referendum.

At its special meeting on June 21 the school board learned the first phase was still progressing toward its August 22 completion date. At the time, Ms Hoerauf shared the second phase was expected to be completed by November 28.

Mr Mitchell shared at an October 3 meeting that, "Construction is completed. We are going through punch list items now. Some of it is extensive; mainly they are cosmetic, though. Painting left a lot to be desired."

Mr Mitchell and Newtown Public Schools Director of Visual and Performing Arts Michelle Hiscavich went on to share that a number of items, mostly cosmetic, were being looked into. Due to the way the auditorium was originally designed, Mr Mitchell said the final inspections for the Certificate of Occupancy were on hold until Christmas break, when power to the area could be shut down without interrupting students. The breaker would be a large undertaking, and the inspection was moved to winter break "just in case" power to the building is impacted for a period of time.

Frustrations around punch-list items and concerns with contractors led the school board to vote 6-1 to request the Board of Selectmen and PBSC review STV/DPM's contract.

TV/DPM acted as the owner's representative between the town, the project team, and the state for the project. Then-Board of Education Chairman Keith Alexander voted against the motion, saying he felt he did not have enough information to vote on the topic.

Ms Hiscavich said frustrations with the project began with the original budget.

"It was inadequate. It was not enough to do this project properly. We had to go back for a second request for additional money to do a Phase Two," said Ms Hiscavich.

Meanwhile, NHS students were again preparing to stage a production elsewhere. The fall drama - Getting Away with Murder, written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth - was staged at Reed Intermediate School in November.

Near the start of December, Ms Hiscavich shared an update on the NHS auditorium renovation project with the school board.

"Phase Two has been on schedule," said Ms Hiscavich, also sharing that speakers had been installed and lighting was expected to be turned on within the week.

Cracks in the cement floor that had previously been reported to the school board had some repairs completed, but areas remained to be rectified.

First Selectman Daniel Rosenthal, who attended the meeting, said he was pleasantly surprised when he toured the space the previous week. While saying the imperfections should be rectified, he said the general impression may be that the cracks are worse than they are.

A Gala Concert to mark the opening of the NHS auditorium is set for January 5 at the school, with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 6:45 pm. The snow date for the event is January 8.

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