Category Archives: MISA

Greenwich High Music Hall

Selfish, maybe; futile? We folded like a wet hanky

Not to be built

Not to be built

A reader inquires about the identity of the Bill Effros who’s providing so much information here on the ongoing MISA fiasco and asks,

Is this the same Mr. Effros whose pursued the selfish and futile litigation over the GHS fields’ lights for years? Became so personally obsessed with the football team playing 3 or 5 night games annually on the GHS site that the town was obliged to obtain an injunction prohibiting him from disrupting town meetings on the topic?

Yes he is, but if you want to know the result of that “futile” litigation, he sets it out here. What the hell was the town thinking to agree to this?


The “Stadium Lights Settlement” proposed by the Town of Greenwich and accepted, without modification, by neighbors, is quite specific. In essence, neighbors dropped 3 lawsuits blocking installation of the light poles, in return for stipulations by the Town of Greenwich that the entire property could not ever be rezoned from R-12 and R-20, and that all restrictions placed on the entire property, since it was assembled as a High School, would be strictly enforced, in perpetuity, with the exception of the use of the Stadium Lights and walkway lights which could be used on 3 Friday nights a year, for regular season home varsity football games.

The high school is in a “dark zone”. It cannot be used at night. It must remain dark, even when the 3 permitted football games are played.

When Town attorneys presented this Settlement to Stamford Superior Court, the Judge was incredulous, and refused to believe The Town was prepared to give up so much, to get so little; notwithstanding assurances from Town Attorneys they had authority to sign the Stipulations and Court Ordered Judgments.

I’m not sure, but I think I might have soiled my pants when I learned from my attorneys The Judge had not accepted The Settlement as presented, and had instructed Town Attorneys he would not accept the Settlement until the ramifications were explained, in detail, by The TOG Legal Department, in Executive Session, to The Board of Education; The Selectmen; The Superintendent of Greenwich Public Schools; The Planning and Zoning Commission; The Wetlands Commission; and The Representative Town Meeting; and voted on by those town agencies in recorded votes.

Town Attorneys returned to Court on 3 occasions to request a waiver of the “vote” requirement. The Judge refused, and threatened to send out marshals to round up Board members who had not yet voted on the Settlement. He would not authorize the Settlement until Town Attorneys could prove all parties to the various suits understood and approved it in recorded votes.

It took 6 months before all the required votes were taken. The Judge told me and my attorneys to go into an antechamber where the Town Attorney would tell me and my attorneys exactly what he had told Town Agencies, to ensure we all had the same understanding of the implications of the Settlement, before he handed down 3 Stipulations and Court Ordered Judgments on July 22, 2003.

I have remembered that judge in my prayers, every night since.

Bill Effros


Filed under MISA

The Big Dig

What sink hole? This was part of the plan all along, trust us.

What sink hole? This was part of the plan all along; trust us.

Bill Effros, a/k/a Lovable Whack Job, has a lengthy comment posted in the comments section about MISA and our impending doom. I’d hate to see it buried there, so I’m reposting it here.

You have visualized correctly, however that was not the calculation used by BOE in order to propose putting the bottom of the foundation 15 feet above sea level.

The architects claim they were told the building itself could be 45 feet above ground level, that they had to wind up with 750 on-site parking spaces, and that they had to bring in the project for $15 million.

Their original proposal called for building a new auditorium 45 feet high over a 2 level parking garage. There were only 2 flies in this ointment. First, it boosted the projected cost above $25 million. And second, the acoustic engineers told BOE the acoustics in the new auditorium would be no better than the acoustics in the old auditorium unless the interior dimension from the top of the stage to the bottom of the ceiling was at least 67 feet.

So, the parking garage was eliminated, and a 70 foot high building was proposed that would extend only 45 feet above ground level, and 25 feet below ground level.

That was when someone pointed out that this 70 foot high auditorium had been designed without any foundation to hold it up. The architects went back to their drawing boards, and returned with a 15 foot high mechanical section, under the stage, that would house massive elevator machinery capable of raising and lowering an entire 170 member chorus; in addition to giant sump pumps and electrical generating equipment needed to get rid of the water that would inevitably flood into the huge underground chamber, now extending 40 feet below ground level.

Site Plans for the western side of the MISA Auditorium show a ground level ranging from 40 to 45 feet. That meant the piles for the foundation would be driven directly into the Long Island Sound seabed–a dicey proposal from an engineering standpoint, and one sure to raise the building cost to unacceptable levels.

This problem was solved by producing site plans in which the ground level was changed from 40-45 feet to 50-55 feet. Now the base of the building would start 15 feet above sea level, and the piles could be driven into the solid rock below.

Yes, of course, the building would extend 55-60 feet above the actual ground level, but who would notice? What could they do? It would be too late.

Enter the PCBs.

In 2011, without approval for the changed architectural plans, BOE started digging, only to discover the 10 feet of fill, added to the 40-45 foot ground level in the fields behind the high school, contained massive quantities of PCBs and other known carcinogens.

Construction stopped and testing began. “The soil borings will be completed using a Geoprobe direct-push drilling machine” according to a BOE press release. Samples were collected, some to a depth of 45 feet without ever hitting rock. Those samples went no deeper only because the testing equipment was incapable of going deeper.

While the MISA site plan indicated rock below the surface, in fact, in many locations, there was no rock at all–just solid peat topped off with PCB contaminated fly ash and top soil, sitting on the Long Island Sound seabed. There was nothing to build the foundation on.

The Toxic Substances Control Act Administrator’s conditional approval letter of Dec. 3, 2012 requires, among other things, 5 foot thick solid reinforced concrete encapsulation of PCBs not removed from the GHS site. This encapsulation must be compliant with EPA regulations, and must completely contain all PCBs left under the MISA foundation, so that not a single PCB molecule can ever escape either into ground water or surface water. Monitoring equipment must be installed, and maintained, in perpetuity, to ensure PCB encapsulation compliance, forever. These terms are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency in the form of a “Perpetual Deed Restriction” which requires disclosure of the encapsulated PCBs every time any neighboring property is transferred or mortgaged. (Mortgages are not offered by many lending institutions to properties adjacent to PCB storage facilities.)

BOE told us the “Coffer Dam” would do the trick. It has not.

BOE has always known it is at least impractical, probably impossible, and certainly astronomically expensive, to build MISA as shown in the plans presented to The Planning and Zoning Commission, PZBA, BET, Selectmen, RTM, EPA, The Army Corps of Engineers, CT-DEEP, IWWA, The Conservation Commission, The Press, and the public.

BOE never had any intention to build MISA as shown in those plans; they intended only to use the plans to get final approvals. Then they intended to build almost all of the building above ground, through a series of work-order changes that would have more than doubled the approved cost, and resulted in the largest building in the Town of Greenwich, located on property zoned “residential”, without adequate parking, 3 times as high as permitted pursuant to stipulations contained in court orders, and rented out as a commercial facility to generate revenue.

The discovery of PCBs changed everything, and BOE has been backed into trying to build MISA, from a point 15 feet above sea level, according to plans everyone knows cannot possibly work.

The only real question is how much more money TOG taxpayers will have to spend to unwind this situation..

Bill Effros


Filed under MISA

When they finish in London, the GHS Money Pit should be ready for its own renovation

GHS Auditorium entrance foyer (as envisioned) Credit: Peter Tesei

GHS Auditorium entrance foyer (as envisioned)
Credit: Peter Tesei

First underwater tunnel in the world to be restored to its original splendor.

Touted as the birthplace of the modern Metro system, the first underwater tunnel in the world – built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his father Marc – is one of the most important sites in engineering history.

Until the London benefactors can be lured over here to help out, perhaps our town officials will consider alternative revenue sources to help defray the cost of  (trying to) block PCB seepage:

In its heyday it hosted market stalls, fire-eaters, an infamous fundraising banquet when still part-finished, and later, unwanted prostitution.


Filed under MISA

Work on the GHS money pit will resume – maybe

We need a bigger boat

We need a bigger boat

The town awaits the results of its latest attempt to keep things dry and PCB-free.  Good luck with that.

Construction of the orchestra pit for the new auditorium being built at Greenwich High School could start next week, if a newly reinforced dam prevents major leakage into the site.

Site contractor AMEC has .. bolstered the excavated area’s cofferdam with extra sheet piling. As a result, the dug-out section is ready for another pumping, scheduled for Thursday, of the approximately 9 feet of water sitting in it.

The dewatering process is complicated by the widespread ground contamination that exists at the high school site. The initial leakage into the pit caused the water table to tilt, and polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs] in the ground to migrate.

A stronger cofferdam is expected to prevent major groundwater leakage into the pit and the extent of water-table disruption that precipitated the PCB migration. If the reinforcements do not work, the cofferdam will require more bulwarking before pit construction can begin.

“The problem was it was affecting the pressure in the level of the water in the field and causing flow and some migration of some contaminants in the field,” [BET member Bob Brady] said. “It was a manageable level from an engineering and technical standpoint, and the pump could have kept it [the pit] dry for construction, but it was causing problems with the PCBs. That seems to be the critical variable.”

Indeed it does.


Filed under MISA

And the MISA saga continues

I know I dropped my wallet in here SOMEWHERE

I know I dropped my wallet in here SOMEWHERE

GT reports, two weeks after a FWIW reader did, that groundwater seepage has “slowed” construction of the money orchestra pit and hence, the rest of the project.

This is a separate issue from the soil contamination problems, yet to be reported anywhere but here, but it’s coming.

Hold on to your checkbook.


Filed under MISA

Just for the record, there were people who opposed the Music Hall precisely because it would drain money away from more critical projects

Mark Pruner was one of them.

RTM member Mark Pruner, a vice chairman of the Education Committee, predicted more money would be needed for the project in the future and said, “I’ve yet to hear how spending the money for this auditorium will result in a better educational experience. … Think of all the other facilities that are going to end up being deferred as we end up spending $64 million or $70 million or $75 million on the remediation costs and the auditorium. Other projects in town are going to be deferred.”

UPDATE: Here’s the roll call of RTM members’ votes on MISA. I’ll try to break them down for easy targeting in our upcoming election.


Filed under MISA

That great whooshing sound you hear is the money being sucked from your wallet

Platinum shovels and hardhats await (photo credit, Jason Rearick)

Platinum shovels and hardhats await (photo credit, Jason Rearick)

Construction begins for the Greenwich High Music Palace. 

Interesting note, spotted by NewsJunkie: not a single member of our government dared show his or her face for the start of this fiasco, and why would they? Four years from now, when the final numbers are toted up, no one’s going to want a picture of themselves cheering this on or being in any way involved with it.

On Monday, a row of hard hats perched atop gleaming shovels lay against a trailer near the construction site, props that would ostensibly be used during a groundbreaking ceremony. But no one claimed them for grinning photo-ops. Instead, Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarty ventured out at midday as the sole town official to pay a brief site visit.


Filed under MISA

Can’t keep a bad idea down

Llod Hull (propped up by statuette, center) and Mark Pruner

Lloyd Hull (propped up by statuette, center) and Mark Pruner

RTM votes to keep going on the GHS Music Palace

“There’s one thing we can never compromise on and that’s education,” said Lloyd Hull, a member of District 10/Northwest of the RTM. “Economize in other areas, but not education.”

Octogenarian Hull, a back country resident who will likely not be sending voluntary donations to Greenwich from Jupiter Island, didn’t explain what “compromise” was involved: taxpayer representatives wanted to stop the palace completely, Hull wants to hand a blank check over to the very people who steered us into this quagmire in the first place. “A good, sincere-sounding sound bite’s too good to waste,” Hull (might have) said, “who cares about reality?”

Greenwich Time notes: “The project’s cost has soared by 30 percent to $44 million following the discovery of widespread soil contamination at the Hillside Road campus and higher-than-expected project bids.”

I share the sentiments of a colleague of mine:

“It works out to $55,000 a student at the present time,” said Mark Pruner, also a member of District 10. “I have yet to hear how spending the money for this auditorium will result in a better education.”

What are we getting for that $55,000 (and counting) cost per student?

It includes a $3.1 million earmark to make the auditorium’s orchestra pit water-tight because it is below grade, a change that was necessitated by the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls when ground was broken on the project in 2011.

There is also a $3.8 million line item for the cleanup of contaminated soil outside the construction site in the vicinity of the school’s athletic fields, which the Board of Education is treating as a separate project that could ultimately cost between $15 million and $146 million. (so the once $30 million, now $44 million project will actually cost at least $59 million and possibly $186 million. Thank you, Lloyd Hull, for refusing to “compromise”).

Tesei and Selectman Drew Marzullo, both GHS graduates, spoke in support of the project.

“Marzullo said the project will pay dividends.

“It benefits our children and will increase property values,” Marzullo said.

Pruner has it right: there is no evidence that a tuba practice room will benefit “the children”, and to my certain knowledge, not a single prospective Greenwich home buyer has ever asked about the quality of the acoustics in the present auditorium. Test scores, graduation rates, yes, and most important, taxes. This project will raise those taxes, a matter of no concern to Lloyd Hull, and will decrease property values, a result exactly the opposite of what Third Selectman Marzullo expects. Between those two and 118 of our fellow citizens on the RTM, we’re in the best of hands.


Filed under MISA

What’s next for Bob Horton, drain the Byram pool?

Say goodnight

Say goodnight

My absolute favorite liberal and friend Bob Horton says it’s time to throw in the towel on the GHS Music Palace. Bob cites just a few of the many good reasons to delay tuba practice but any good reason will do: if the palace proponents have lost Horton, the fat lady has sung.


Filed under MISA

So cancel the whole thing

Greenwich High Music Palace (as proposed)

Greenwich High Music Palace (as proposed)

Supporters of the GHS music palace say budget cuts will render the project moot.

Since a major reason for building the new auditorium is to improve sound quality, Cirigliano said getting rid of the orchestra pit would defeat some of the purpose.

“Without that, we’re not getting much improvement for the renovation,” Cirigliano said.

GHS Band Director John Yoon is concerned that renovating the current auditorium — which has poor acoustics, with sound not traveling properly and students struggling to sing over the HVAC system — would not produce sufficient practice areas. He said that since the sloped floor would have to be leveled off, the ceiling would not be high enough.

“If they’re going to use the existing auditorium, the ceiling has to be 19 to 20 feet, tops,” Yoon said. “We produce a huge amount of sound. That has to be displaced. By using the existing auditorium space, we’re throwing that out the window. We’re going to spend the money and we’re not going to do it right. Again.”

Even the editors of Greenwich Time, always ready to support spending money that belongs to Greenwich taxpayers, has suggested that we discard this boondoggle. In an editorial on March 15th the paper said:

“If the current auditorium is an indicator, town children, and town residents, will use this building for 40 years or more. Do it right, or don’t do it.”

Who could disagree?


Filed under MISA

If it’s not worth doing, it’s not worth doing well

With the Greenwich High Music Hall now estimated to cost $42 million and still climbing, people are rethinking the project. There’s talk of eliminating the orchestra pit, reusing an older portion, and on and on. The end result, it seems to me, will be a dog’s breakfast of old, new and make-do, all so the proponents can claim they built something. That’s a dumb reason to spend what’s probably going to be fifty-million bucks, if we’ll end up with the same inadequacies we’ve been muddling along with these past decades. I say, punt.


Filed under MISA

And we’re off!

Greenwich High School Music Hall

Greenwich High School Music Hall

The first bids for some of the construction costs of the Greenwich High Music Palace are in, and they’re 27% higher than originally predicted $29.3 million instead of $23. That’s not counting the costs of soil cleanup ($13-23 million), and the bids are for just 67% of the total cost (again excluding soil remediation).

The butcher’s bill is still growing, and we’ve hardly started.


Filed under MISA

The fix is in?

Land use specialist Mike Finkbeiner (the guy to call for all your questions regarding waterfront or dry land building) has a question for our town leaders concerning their double – secret – probation plan for soil remediation at the high school:

Surveyor’s only question was “where’s the plan?”  Will we need to go
to Hartford to learn there is /was no “phased remediation plan? “

If that’s the case, and AECOM never said there was such a plan in the
first place, didn’t the RTM have the right to know that before they
voted the funding in May?

Just asking.

Finkbeiner is complaining that the town is claiming that there is a “staged remediation plan” that’s in place for cleaning up the contaminated soil under the proposed Music Palace, but they won’t release it, and apparently Hartford doesn’t know anything about it. Why?

I can think of two possible reasons:

1. There is no such plan and our leaders therefore have no idea how much remediation will cost, notwithstanding their promise to the contrary made to the RTM; or

2. There is a plan, the town knows what the clean-up will cost and fears that if that cost is disclosed it will be the final stake through the heart of the Palace.

Neither one is a good way to run a railroad.

(But a third explanation might be: chief complainant in this matter is the perennial High School gadfly Bill Efros, who sues the town over everything and anything concerning the school, from stadium lighting to the color of graduation gowns. Efros lives way up on Old Church Road, 200′ higher than the school property and thus unlikely to be harmed by water (which runs down, not uphill).  That doesn’t mean the town shouldn’t respond to his questions or the questions of the consultant he’s hired, but it’s understandable.)

Publication: Greenwich Time; Date: Jun 10, 2012; Section: News; Page: A1
Questions remain on high school auditorium project, surveyor says
By Lisa Chamoff
Finkbeiner, who runs Land Water Solutions, a Greenwich firm that resolves land use issues, recently put in a Freedom of Information Act request to AECOM, the environmental consultant the town hired after contaminated soil
was discovered at the school last summer. At issue is how the building committee for the project, which is known as MISA and is expected to cost at least $37 million, is aiming to proceed with construction before polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are removed from the rest of the property.

In order to prevent contaminated groundwater from infiltrating the MISA site during construction of the orchestra pit, which will be built 12 feet below the water table, the committee has proposed installing a cofferdam, a watertight
structure to enclose the area that sits under water.

Finkbeiner said the high school property sits on an old peat bog, and he doesn’t believe it would be possible to
install a watertight structure. “If you’re driving it into a peat bog, where do you get the seal?” Finkbeiner said during a recent interview.

In his FOI request, Finkbeiner asked why the site plan filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency,which will decide whether the MISA project can be “bifurcated,” or proceed before toxins are removed from the rest ofthe high school property, doesn’t include the cofferdam. He also requested a site plan that demonstrates the feasibility of constructing MISA prior to remediation.
Finkbeiner said he filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission after the town didn’t respond to his request.


Filed under MISA

Spend spend spend

Free love! (And free lunch and auditoriums and pools and ….)

Greenwich’s long term debt will be $190 million next year and certain Democrats think this is just fine and in fact we should spend more.

In an attempt to placate skittish ratings agencies about the town’s creditworthiness, the Board of Estimate and Taxation established a $210 million cap last year on borrowing, a practice that has long been taboo in pay-as-you-go Greenwich.

The policy also limits the amount of money the town can apply toward debt service and interest payments to 70 percent of the capital tax levy, the amount of tax revenue dedicated to infrastructure projects and equipment upgrades.

The debt ceiling measure is subject to review every two years, which can’t come soon enough for some office holders, including Selectman Drew Marzullo, a Democrat in his second term.

“It is an artificial number that does not take into account the long-term needs of the town,” Marzullo said. “No one has demonstrated whatsoever the positive or negative impact this might have.”

“Either we’re going to have to increase the debt ceiling, talk about longer-term borrowing or don’t do projects that need to be done,” Marzullo said. “The other option no one wants to talk about is to increase the mill rate. I can hear the guillotine being sharpened now.”

And Marzullo isn’t alone in this philosophy of spending what we don’t have. here’s this from a FWIW reader:

C’mon Chris. I know you consider yourself a contrarian but resorting to hysterics about what the town can and can not afford is beneath even you. Yes, things are bad in Europe and the macroeconomic picture in this country is not good either. Though, in the grand scheme of things MISA is not going to bankrupt us and is a decent attempt at giving this Town’s infrastructure a nice shot in the arm. When is the last time this Town really spent some money on a luxury item….schools, fire stations, police stations do not count. You are a broker…you can’t keep selling this Town as NYC North with exorbitant real estate prices without sprinkling in a few high end amenities once in awhile. This ain’t Mayberry anymore….let’s stop pretending.

Dig in, grip your wallet and fight, fight fight. People like that Marzullo and the reader think that Greenwich will be more attractive if  it has a new municipal pool, an expensive high school auditorium and God knows what other “luxuries”, these people can dream up. A low property tax and a well-maintained infrastructure is our draw, not new pools.


Filed under MISA

Fiscal responsibility

No, not on the part of the town, which voted overwhelmingly last night to fund the Performing Arts Palace we don’t need and can’t afford, but the residents of Cobb “Island”, that small development of expensive homes on the water and just off Exit 4, who want a noise barrier installed at their own expense! 

These people all bought their homes with full knowledge that the highway was nearby, so had they been looking to use other people’s money to mitigate the traffic roar (like everyone else up and down the Thruway) I wouldn’t be sympathetic, but no, all they want is P&Z approval for the residents to do it themselves (the State will erect the barrier and bill Cobb Island). That’s putting your money where your ears are and I’m impressed. I can’t imagine why the P&Z wouldn’t approve this, quickly, but you never know with the P&Z.


Filed under MISA