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Committee Defends Use of Copper at Fairfield Woods

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Bill Sapone has heard grumblings around town for months about the Fairfield Woods Middle School Building Committee’s choice to line the school’s new addition and roof with copper. So he went before Fairfield’s Board of Selectmen on Wednesday to defend the decision.

“This material has been used many times, and we expect it to perform really well on the building,” said Sapone, the building committee chairman.

The town approved using up to $24 million in bonds to expand Fairfield Woods in 2010. Plans called for 13 new classrooms to accommodate 250 more students this school year, which were completed before September.

An expansion of the school’s cafeteria and addition of a new gymnasium and auditorium are under way now. Sapone expects the auditorium to be ready later this month, and the project to finish on schedule later this year. The project is also on track to stay within its $24 million price tag.

But many town officials and residents have made remarks about the committee’s choice of materials since the project started taking shape last summer. The new addition is lined with a copper composite siding and topped with copper panels.

Some questioned the use of the expensive metal when the town is trying to save money. The copper option cost the town about $40 per square foot, compared with $30 to $35 per square foot for brick.

Though the siding and roofing cost more than brick or aluminum options, Sapone's committee decided to go with copper because of its shelf life. He expects the copper to last 100 years or more with little to no maintenance. That could save the town money in repairs in the long term, he said.

“Building solid and putting in a structure that’s going to last has got to be taken into consideration,” Sapone said.

A brick exterior would need more internal supports because of its weight, he said. This would have taken longer to install, putting the project in danger of missing its Sept. 1 deadline to open classrooms. The material is also “greener” than others, as it is made from some recycled copper and would be fully recyclable if taken down.

Selectman James Walsh questioned the building committee’s authority to make the decision to used copper. He said the town’s funding bodies should have had a say in the choice as well.

“It’s no different from building a house,” Walsh said. “If I’m funding the operation of building my house, do I have some say into what it looks like? Shouldn’t that be the case?”

Sapone said Wednesday that the decision was his committee’s once the all the town bodies had approved the funding. He also noted that the decisions were made in public meetings, and that copper siding was included in plans approved by the Board of Education and the Plan and Zoning Commission.

“The drawing were there, and everyone had access,” Sapone said. “It just wasn’t the thing everyone wanted to talk about when we were going through this. It was not a stealth issue.”

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