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The New London School Building and Maintenance Committee in October approved a $137,537 increase in the cost of building the Nathan Hale Magnet Elementary School for Performing and Visual Arts.
The order changed the required specifications for wire that will be used in the school to connect computers to a central system, substituting wire made by one manufacturer for wire made by another.
Timothy Wheeler, chief information officer for the schools, told the committee before they voted that the $137,537 change is required so that the Nathan Hale wire will be the same as what was used in other schools.
But apparently another reason for the change is that a local company, Jan Electronics Supplies Inc. of New London, a supplier for the substituted brand of wire selected by the building committee, will be able to bid on the contract.
Because of the change, companies that don't carry the wire substituted by the committee's order would be precluded from bidding.
Schools Superintendent Nicholas Fischer confirmed this week that the specifications were changed, in part, to include the local company.
"One of the things I understand people want to do is support local businesses," he said.
Mark Christiansen, a Democrat who is chairman of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission, works for Jan Electronics, but when I contacted him Monday he said he couldn't comment on the change order for wiring at Nathan Hale, an order he did say he is familiar with.
Christiansen said the company is owned and run by his mother, 80-year-old Angeline Christiansen, who is ill and unable to comment. He said no one else in the family or company would be available to comment either.
I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Fischer Friday for a copy of the wire change order for Nathan Hale and all written information and communication relating to it on file with the school department.
Fischer acknowledged in some email exchanges this week that the change order is a public document, but he also referred me to city attorneys to ask about my request. And by late Tuesday afternoon I still had not received from Fischer any of the documents or the change order itself.
I was also unable to determine in phone conversations with Fischer, Wheeler and a superintendent for the contractor for the project, how much the wire was estimated to cost before the change order was made.
City Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran, chairwoman of the school building committee, refused to talk about the change order when I called for a comment. She cited my pending Freedom of Information request, which is a novel excuse for a public official refusing to comment about a vote made in a public meeting on spending for a public project.
Other committee members voting 8-0 for the Nathan Hale change order, according to the meeting minutes, included City Council President Michael Passero, school board member Margaret Curtin, Director of Public Works Tim Hanser, citizen representative to the committee Martha Bauduccio, Fire Marshal Calvin Darrow, Building Official Kurt Kripas and Fischer.
Wheeler told me that the change in wiring specifications will mean Nathan Hale will have the same wiring as two other new schools in the city. But those schools do not have the same wiring as another new school building, the Winthrop Magnet Elementary School.
Wheeler said the specifications for the Winthrop project were developed by the architects and bid on before they could be changed.
"It was too late to change the wire in Winthrop," he said. "For Winthrop, the ship had sailed."
The wiring specifications for Nathan Hale, which were changed by the school building committee, were originally developed by engineers for the project.
Wheeler added that the city wants to standardize the cable used to connect computers in schools because "in any industry you try to standardize."
According to the minutes for the meeting at which the wiring change order was approved, a representative of a regional education center helping New London with its school building suggested the change order for Nathan Hale wiring might not be reimbursable by the state. She said the new specs should be sent to the state to see if they will pay.
Fischer told me this week that he told committee members that the change order could be rescinded if the state rules it is not reimbursable. He agreed, though, that his suggestion the order could be scrapped does not appear in the meeting minutes.
It also makes me wonder, if city taxpayers might ultimately be spared the $137,537 cost of changing the wiring in the Nathan Hale school, why state taxpayers should be asked to pay for it.
Evidently it's OK to support local businesses, if some other taxpayers are paying.
This is the opinion of David Collins