It began with an apology and ended without any action. After a three-hour meeting on Thursday, members of the Town Council did not vote to put the Cheshire High School boys locker project out to bid.
Supporters of the project had hoped it would move forward, but by about 9:30 p.m., it became clear a vote was not forthcoming.
Council Chairman Tim Slocum started the locker room discussion with a mea culpa. “I sincerely apologize for my lack of judgment. I have apologized to 14 coaches…” he said. Slocum said he was trying to be ironic when in an email about the project he called some high school athletes “sissy boys.”
The renovation project was approved at referendum in 2009 for $500,000. A design was then approved by the Board of Education and presented to the council on March 13.
Supporters thought the project would be approved for the bid process at the March meeting. Instead, the item was tabled, causing about a dozen parents and supporters to attend the following meeting on April 10 to express their displeasure.
That’s when the emails began to fly. “You were very happy to sit back and chuckle while the zealous parents (including a few raging hypocrites) blasted the council,” Budget Committee Chairman Dave Schrumm wrote to School Superintendent Greg Florio on April 11. The email was leaked to the public.
“I will not go through self flagellation,” about the email, Schrumm said at Thursday’s council meeting. “A gentleman does not read another gentleman’s mail,” he added. (The quote was taken from a appointee in the Hoover administration).
Under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, however, certain emails from elected officials are public documents.
Many in the athletic community believe the locker room is unsafe and even a health risk. It hasn’t been renovated in at least 25 years and is crowded and worn out, parents have said. Reports of staph infections, ringworm and other diseases, possibly contracted in the locker room, have surfaced since the fall sports season.
At Thursday's meeting parent Laurie Sansone spoke about an apparent disinterest in the project. “Why it became an issue is the insinuation behind it. You turn a deaf ear. There are certain preconceived notions that some students don’t matter,” she said.
About two hours into the meeting, Vincent Masciana, director of management services for Cheshire schools, explained the cost and scope of the project. He said a base renovation would cost $485,000 while a handicapped accessible ramp would add about $27,000 to the project for a total of $512,000.
Public Building Commission Chairman John Purtill then stepped in to explain the delay in requesting bids makes it unlikely the locker room will be renovated in time for the fall season. “It makes sense (to prepare) for a serviceable room for the season. It make sense to try to come up with the money,” he said.
“We will do our best to make it a safe and as healthy a locker room as we can,” Florio said. “We will continue to throw good money after bad. We will continue to do that. I don’t mean this maliciously,” he added.
Parent Rob Daly, who received the controversial email from Slocum, voiced concern about the project delay. “I see it stalled. The kids will have to go back into the same space this fall,” he said.
Cheshire Board of Education Chairman Gerald Brittingham said the board and administrators will focus on several options. “I advocate for a separate building,” he said. A so-called “Butler building” or pre-fab structure would be affordable, several supporters said.
Slocum suggested the school district spend money from its budget to best prepare the locker room for the fall. “Develop a plan for a capital budget project,” he added.
Democratic minority member Michael Ecke said after the meeting that not much got accomplished. “It was orchestrated to push (the project) off,” he said.
The next meeting of the Board of Education is May 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Cheshire High School. The Cheshire Gridion Club plans to tour the locker room at its May 8 meeting.