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Saturday, February 24 News

Amid confusion, BOS approves bid for schools' tech upgrade

A confused Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday to allow the Board of Education to award an approximately $500,000 bid to JSK Systems for technology infrastructure upgrades at New Canaan High and Saxe Middle schools.

First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, who voted against awarding the bid, said he did not understand why he was not voting on a contract. Nancy Harris, the district's interim director of finance and operations, asked the selectmen to approve the bid so she could issue what she called a purchase order.

"I'm 100 percent in support of the project," Mallozzi said. "But I'm not at all satisfied with what I've seen here. ... It's so different than what we ever approved."

Mallozzi said the board usually looks into finalized contracts when asked to approve high-priced projects.

Harris, who submitted the bidding documents along with some working notes to the selectmen, said she didn't bring a contract because she needed the Board of Selectmen's approval to award the bid before finalizing the contract.

The capital project, which aims to upgrade the wireless network systems at the high and middle schools this summer, was approved by the Town Council in April. The town will fund $464,493 toward the upgrades of the project's total cost of $544,840. Harris said the Board of Education would fund the difference through a state educational grant.

Mallozzi took issue with the fact that the contract is "subject to negotiations."

"It's really confusing to me," he said. "I've never had anything come before the board ... that talks about `subject to negotiations.' "

Selectmen Beth Jones and Nick Williams both voted in favor of awarding the bid.

Harris' papers include some of her "scribbles," as well as the initial bid request of $581,141, which she said was negotiated down to $544,840. Besides the board, the different numbers also confused Administrative Assistant Tom Stadler, who said he'd never seen a such an expensive purchase come before the board without a final contract.

Harris said the approach is "standard practice" because it doesn't involve construction.

"That is the normal way," she said. "This is not a construction project. This is the installation of hardware and a purchasing license to operate."

As he urged the board to approve the bid, Robert Miller, the district's director of information and communication technologies, said the goal is to start the project by July 1 and have the infrastructure "fully implemented, installed and tested prior" to the beginning of classes in August.

"It's a pretty extensive project. If this gets late," he said, "there's no way we'll get it done before school starts."

After the 2-1 bid approval from the selectmen, Harris said she'll issue the purchase order by June 16.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

Nelson Oliveira|Education/general assignment reporter