In spite of exposing himself as a desperate charlatan at every possible turn, a shocking number of people (i.e. more than zero) continue to give the outlandish claims of perennial wannabe Wolfgang Halbig the kind of reverence they’ve never deserved. Take for example one of his more recent tall tales: that all 456 students enrolled at Sandy Hook Elementary School for 2012-2013 were actually attending school one town over, at the site of the former Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe, CT on December 14th, 2012 (rather than starting in January of 2013). Therefore, at least according to him, the shooting couldn’t possibly have occurred as there were no children or educators physically located at Sandy Hook. Unsurprisingly, Halbig has thus far failed to explain how this new theory fits in with his previous allegation that the school was permanently closed in 2008 as Chalk Hill was still in use (at least as a school; it continued to house the Monroe Parks and Recreation department as well as Monroe Early Learning Center) by Monroe township up until 2011. Of course this isn’t all that shocking as weaving his fever dreams into any kind of cohesive narrative has never been the guy’s strong suit.
Perhaps a bit foolishly, I believed myself to be completely done with Halbig’s nonsense. After all, the guy has struck out at literally every at bat, so continuing to legitimize his foolishness by fact checking it can only be thought of as a complete and total waste of my time. But since the comments here on this site have been flooded by even reasonable-sounding folks challenging me to look into his Chalk Hill claims – which appear to based on nothing more than a couple of alleged food delivery invoices – I’d say I’ve successfully been pestered into submission.
First, a little bit of background on Chalk Hill: opened in 1969, the 122,000 square foot, two-story middle school originally housed approximately 800 of Monroe’s sixth, seventh and eight graders. Decades later, as enrollment began to dwindle, more and more students were relocated elsewhere in the district, and the town was forced to reconsider the school’s long-term viability. Renovations to Chalk Hill were suspended in 2008 and after the last of the students (by then just the district’s sixth graders) moved out in 2010, the building was returned to the township for municipal use. Now a crumbling shell of its former self, the people of Monroe continued to debate Chalk Hill’s future as the town struggled to find the funds necessary to keep the lights on. With no plans in sight, the building found some purpose in the immediate wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook. Monroe First Selectman Steve Vavrek, School Superintendent Jim Agostine, and many others worked quickly to make Chalk Hill available to neighboring Newtown in what was undoubtedly their greatest hour of need. And in early January of 2013, less than three weeks removed from one of the worst tragedies in American history, Sandy Hook’s students were back in school at Chalk Hill, where they remained until the brand new Sandy Hook Elementary School opened its doors at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
But according to self-proclaimed expert in everything that’s ever existed Wolfgang Halbig, most of if not all of that isn’t true. Though suspiciously short on details, Halbig believes that Sandy Hook was in fact quietly closed in 2008 and then somehow secretly moved across town lines to the largely mothballed Chalk Hill municipal building sometime prior to the 2012-2013 school year. It should go without saying that there is absolutely nothing official – no news articles, township agendas or minutes, etc. – that supports any part of this story.
In an attempt to back up his outrageous claims, Halbig has offered up some cropped and edited screenshots of e-mails and documents purported to have originated from various food vendors serving Newtown public schools. It’s alleged that these screenshots show deliveries destined for Sandy Hook being delivered to Chalk Hill Middle School’s address prior to the known relocation of Sandy Hook’s students in January of 2013. It’s unclear exactly how he obtained this information as these vendors are private companies and would be immune from his voluminous FOIA requests. I assume Halbig (or one of his cohorts) engaged in at least some sort of deception, possibly in the form of social engineering, but I can only speculate as he forwarded my request for more information over to a day trader (?) who claimed to be acting “of counsel” to him and responded with the following inanity:
As genuinely hilarious as this attempt at getting me to dox myself was (A for effort, Ricky!), it was now clear that Wolfgang and his handlers were totally uninterested in engaging in any level of transparency with me. I guess I would be to, if I were an unrepentant liar with something to hide. And while it likely would’ve made things a little bit easier for me in the long run, thankfully I’ve never needed Wolfgang’s help in exposing his own vile claptrap.
Let’s start by looking at what Wolfgang has shared in relation to this claim on Twitter as well as whichever other social media platforms he hasn’t been booted off of yet:
This first screenshot shows an inactive IBM AS/400 “Demographics” entry – not an invoice, as has been claimed – for Sandy Hook Elementary School, listing the school’s address as 375 Fan Hill Road in Monroe, which is the site of the former Chalk Hill Middle School. While its green screen interface makes it look ancient (and it is ancient), lots of companies still use AS/400s to store client information, so there’s nothing all that suspicious about that. I actually don’t doubt for a second that this image is entirely legitimate, and one of the main reasons for that is that if you look hard enough, you’ll see that it essentially debunks itself.
On the left, Wolfgang – or more likely one of his goons since he is effectively computer illiterate – has circled a “Created” date of 4/26/12, the implication being that the address for Sandy Hook was listed as 375 Fan Hill Road (rather than 12 Dickinson Drive in Newtown) as early as April of 2012, or nearly eight months before the shooting. That certainly would be strange, if it were true. However, if you look to the right, you’ll see an smaller, additional screen showing the customer/maintenance notes for Sandy Hook:
This note shows that Sandy Hook’s entry was modified (see the “Modified Date”) on January 2nd, 2013, just one day before Sandy Hook’s students reported to Chalk Hill for the first time. The text accompanying this modification is, as Wolfgang said, “self explanatory”:
“NOW LOCATED IN THE OLD CHALK HILL SCHOOL IN MONROE”
So Sandy Hook’s address was changed in The Compass Group’s AS/400 on January 2nd, 2013 – nineteen days after the shooting – to reflect their new location on Fan Hill Road in Monroe. And as this screenshot was taken long after that, in June of 2018, that is the address shown in their customer demographics. If it had been taken prior to January 2nd, 2013 (when the address was modified, according to the customer maintenance notes), then you’d still see their old address. This is by design. The address was never changed back to 12 Dickinson Drive because the account was deactivated in June of 2016, or about two months before the new school opened. The great thing is that you don’t even have to take my word for it in this case; it’s all right there in the screenshot provided by Wolfgang Halbig himself.
Interestingly, there’s a third window (barely) visible in Halbig’s screenshot: this one shows an e-mail exchange between Wolfgang and a former Sysco employee by the name of Sharon Visone. And while it’s difficult to read, it shows that the chain (subject “9/2012n to 12/2012”) includes an attachment named “Liberty Module.pdf” as well as a note wishing Halbig a “happy retirement”.
So what specifically did Halbig ask for? Why was Sharon Visone so willing to share information about a client with him? Do they have a previous relationship? Why is she wishing him a “happy retirement” when he’s been retired for a number of years? What’s the significance of the attached PDF? Obviously I have a number of questions concerning this interaction, but unfortunately Wolfgang has been unwilling to share any further information with me, instead handing me off to his very legitimate “counsel”. I’ve also reached out to Mrs. Visone via Facebook as well, but have yet to hear back. If I ever do, I’ll be sure to update this entry.
The next screenshot is of another e-mail, this time from a (former) Dean Foods employee by the name of Kelley Montin:
This is another e-mail totally devoid of context. Kelley states that “the deliveries” were sent to the site of the former Chalk Hill Middle School on 375 Fan Hill Road, but when? And what information is contained within those two attachments? If that answer is supposed to be found in Halbig’s next screenshot, then I have more bad news for him:
I’ve read and re-read this invoice a number of times, and unless I’m missing something somewhere, I don’t think it says what Wolfgang thinks it says. Take a look at the date and address at the top:
CSD 13653 SANDY HOOK
12 DICKINSON DRIVE
SANDY HOOK CT 06482
I have to wonder if Wolfgang even reads this stuff before posting it because we’re now two screenshots in and have not seen a single piece of evidence that supports Halbig’s wild claims.
Just for clarification, I wanted to reach out to Kelley Anne for her side of the story, but outside of a couple of abandoned Twitter accounts, she doesn’t have much of a presence online. I was able to locate a phone number for her husband, and while he was initially (understandably) confused and a little standoffish, he did share the following:
“All I know is that WOLFGANG is some conspiracy guy and KELLEY never gave him any info he harassed herself and others at her previous job! Sounds like a whack job! And we want nothing to do with anything to do with him”
Sounds about right.
The third screenshot shared by Halbig is a cropped view of what appears to be a simple Excel spreadsheet which purports to show “Sandy Hook Elemenatry [sic] School invoices for Chalk Hill Middle School”:
This is the only document that doesn’t obviously debunk itself, and it’s shady as hell. Ignoring just how drop dead easy it would be for even a Luddite like Halbig to produce a fake spreadsheet (I quickly created one here, just as an example), I predictably have some questions: who created this spreadsheet? Why did they create this spreadsheet? Why is “elementary” misspelled? Why are the date cells formulas and why do those formulas have errors (as indicated by the green triangle in the upper-left corner)? Why do these invoice dates differ from the invoice date (9/06/12) seen in the previous screenshot? If Wolfgang knows the answers, he’s not talking. And attempts to reach out to Kelley Montin, who allegedly fed him this information, have been futile as she was apparently fired from Dean Foods. Was it because she shared sensitive client information with a slimy blabbermouth like Halbig, who didn’t even have the decency to redact poor Kelley’s information? Was it because she modified client information at his request? As long as Wolfgang refuses to be transparent with his work, I don’t think we’ll ever know.
Thankfully there’s plenty of publicly-available evidence out there that proves the students of Sandy Hook were not (and could not have been) moved into Chalk Hill prior to January of 2013. Some of this evidence – photos, news articles, etc. – has already been published on this site and as such may look a bit familiar to you. There’s also no shortage of boring, bureaucratic stuff either.
As previously mentioned, Sandy Hook Elementary and the former Chalk Hill Middle School are/were in two different school districts, in two different towns. The idea that a public school could simply pack up and move into a municipal building (it had ceased to exist a school or even have the potential to be a school after the Monroe Board of Education gave it back to the township in 2011) in another town, while completely ignoring all zoning laws and without leaving any sort of paper trail behind is absurd enough to negate this whole goofy claim from the jump. That’s to say nothing of making co-conspirators out of nearly everyone in Monroe, who would have to sign off on all of this and then somehow remain silent all these years. But after you’ve already implicated hundreds if not thousands of people (parents, children, law enforcement, first responders, media, etc.) in some imaginary crime, what’s a couple hundred more?
Let’s start by looking at the enrollment for both Sandy Hook and Chalk Hill, by way of Connecticut’s Strategic School Profiles.
During the 2007-2008 school year, there were 679 fifth and sixth grade students enrolled at Chalk Hill Middle School:
That same year, there were 639 students enrolled at Sandy Hook Elementary School:
But if Sandy Hook closed during this time and its students surreptitiously moved to Chalk Hill in Monroe, then we should see enrollment at Chalk Hill nearly double for the 2008-2009 school year while Sandy Hook’s drops to zero… right?
Or not. Enrollment actually drops at both institutions. Furthermore, notice that the grade range at Chalk Hill is still only 5-6 (as opposed to K-4) and Sandy Hook’s address is still 12 Dickinson Drive in Sandy Hook, not Fan Hill Road in Monroe.
This decline in enrollment only accelerates at both schools:
|School year||School name||Enrollment|
|2009-2010||Chalk Hill||577 (-10.20%)|
|2009-2010||Sandy Hook||625 (-1.27%)|
|2010-2011||Chalk Hill||277 (-70.26%)|
|2010-2011||Sandy Hook||575 (-8.33%)|
By July of 2011, Chalk Hill had ceased being a school entirely. As such, the final Strategic School Profile for the school, for the 2011-2012 school year, contains no data:
For comparison’s sake, here’s Sandy Hook’s Strategic School Profile from the same year:
The boring truth is that the people of Monroe had been debating the fate of the declining Chalk Hill for quite some time. And there is a lengthy paper trail to support this, both in news articles…
Chalk Hill School will house only sixth grade next year. The students who would have entered fifth grade there will be moved to the town’s three elementary schools, along with the curriculum and teachers who would have greeted them at Chalk Hill in better times, Palmer said.
“Should the Town ‘Mothball’ Chalk Hill School?” November 18th, 2010
Fifth graders have already moved out of Chalk Hill School, leaving sixth graders behind. Classes are being taught on the second floor and the Parks & Recreation Department has found a new home downstairs.
The school district hopes the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy, set to debut in a wing of Masuk High School next fall, will attract enough sixth graders to allow it to close Chalk Hill as a school next year.
Supt. of Schools Colleen Palmer said about $500,000 could be saved by closing Chalk Hill. The aging building does not meet state education specifications for a school, though its operation is grandfathered.
“It’s an aging building,” Palmer said during Monday’s Board of Education meeting. “Repairs have to be made. It’s ready for a face-lift.”
Among the building’s problems, Palmer said Director of Facilities Arthur Baker told her replacement of underground water pipes to the boilers can no longer be put off.
“We have to do that now or there will be no heating this winter,” she said. “That’s another reason why it’s a risk to stay in that facility.”
Palmer said the pipes continue to break and there is concern the boilers will blow. Forty-year-old single-pane windows must also be replaced, she added.
“Town Gains Control of Chalk Hill Earlier” July 8th, 2011
The Board of Education voted unanimously to turn Chalk Hill over to the town this month at its Tuesday night meeting and First Selectman Steve Vavrek signed an agreement on Wednesday.
The school district, which is not going to use Chalk Hill as a school next fall, was originally going to turn the building over to the town on Oct. 1.
Vavrek said the earlier turn over will give the Public Works Department access to the building to determine what things need to be done to it.
Among conditions of the agreement, the town now has fiscal responsibility for maintaining the building, the Board of Education has full access to the building and will maintain control of the fields behind it as part of the Jockey Hollow Middle School campus.
Supt. of Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer estimates it will cost $15,000 to keep the electricity on and to heat the building in the non-heating season.
“Optimism for a Brief ‘Hibernation’ of Chalk Hill” March 22nd, 2012
Board of Finance members are now calling any closing of Chalk Hill “hibernating” rather than “mothballing”, to represent the optimism that a revenue plan needed to keep it open will come together quickly.
The town would run a deficit of over $200,000 to keep the building open. But the Board of Finance will strongly consider keeping it open if a plan to generate enough revenue to break even or turn a profit is presented by June 1.
Okay, so this isn’t a news article but rather a blog entry from Food Jules, which hosts cooking camps and classes throughout Fairfield County, Connecticut. And in April of 2012, Food Jules hosted a six week session of cooking classes at Chalk Hill. While one could certainly argue that it’s not impossible or even all that unlikely to host cooking classes in an elementary school cafeteria (my township does the same at a local high school), notice that the author repeatedly refers to the building as Chalk Hill and not Sandy Hook.
“Chalk Hill Business Plan Still Missing” June 26th, 2012
Throughout the first quarter of 2012, the Board of Finance tried repeatedly to get a proposed plan for the use of Chalk Hill. Instead what they got were a bunch of statements about ideas for the building, groups that had contacted the town, possible uses, and a request to keep it open for three years in the hope it could make money.
“P&Z Cancels Public Hearing on Chalk Hill’s Future” July 12th, 2012
The necessary information has not been forthcoming in order to properly discuss and review publicly the facts and matters at hand regarding Chalk Hill. As there is also no proposed “business” plan or proposal to be presented or discussed by the Administration or any private interest at this meeting, it would be unfair to the volunteer electorate to sacrifice valuable time at a forum that is not completely informed on the necessary information for proper capital planning.
As well as minutes from Monroe’s Planning & Zoning, Board of Finance, and Town Council meetings:
Monroe Board of Finance, February 15th, 2012:
FIRST SELECTMAN’S COMMUNICATIONS- First Selectman Vavrek stated that the budget it very aggressive this year and that the biggest driver of it is Chalk Hill. He asked the board to consider giving him a 3 year term to turn Chalk Hill around. First Selectman Vavrek continued that there is a new Parks and Recreation Director coming in with experience in turning buildings around and that he has already been contacted by several people, including the daycare director, who are interested in a long term lease. First Selectman Vavrek continued that he will guarantee that within 3 years, Chalk Hill will generate revenue and provide possibilities for the community that don’t presently exist. He added that he is also asking for $369,000 to fund EMS which is housed at Chalk Hill. Board Member Quinlan asked if that was in the budget; First Selectman Vavrek said that it wasn’t First Selectman Vavrek stated that EMS needs the space that Chalk Hill provides for continued training and growth; EMS is beginning to break even and he felt that they would lose some of their volunteers if organization takes a step back. He added that even though it seems like a lot on the town side, the funds are needed to address EMS and Chalk Hill. First Selectman Vavrek said that he has spoken with Jim Agostine, the new superintendent, about Chalk Hill and he said that keeping it open would allow for the possibility of moving the IT Department back there which would provide more room and training opportunities the staff. He noted “there is a partnership that is forming that will only strengthen us at Chalk Hill.” First Selectman Vavrek reiterated that he is confident there is money to be made at Chalk Hill. The cost of keeping the building open is approximately $420,000 a year though Chairman Reed noted there was no projected revenue. First Selectman Vavrek responded that even though programs aren’t there now it does not mean there won’t be. He mentioned the possibility of EMS offering training classes and like the YMCA, the town could offer youth and family activities to generate revenue. There will be further discussion on projected revenue at the budget workshop on March 7th. Board Member Quinlan said that he needs to see a detailed plan that includes realistic revenue projections and how they will be supported. Board Member Ownes added that the plan should include options such as what the costs are for Chalk Hill to remain open and the cost to “mothball” it. First Selectman Vavrek said that he will provide the board with greater detail but asked them not to “shut down an opportunity” and to have a vision of what the needs of the town actually are and trust that those services are needed. Board Member Quinlan said that it is a great concept but he needs to see plans. First Selectman Vavrek added that if Chalk Hill were closed, there would be a loss of revenue from existing activities such as the Parks and Recreation programs.
Jennifer Aguilar, 32 Surrey Lane, expressed her disappointment in the vote to close Chalk Hill. She doesn’t feel that the right people have been reached out to in order to make it a money maker. She commented that Councilmember Sredzinski stated that he doesn’t feel comfortable asking tax payers to pay for that space but instead he is going to ask them to pay for half of it to be closed and do nothing with. She knows parents who would volunteer once a year every Friday to have a Teen Night at Chalk Hill. $3,000 could be made three weeks out of every month.
Karen Terino, 149 Wheeler Road, stated that she runs the 3, 4, and 5 year old program for Parks & Recreation in the Summer. She is really displeased with the decision to close Chalk Hill. In looking at the number of houses that have gone under foreclosure if you leave them alone for a number of years they will get so dilapidated and it will cost more money to bring it back a year later. They bring in a lot of revenue with 150 kids for eight weeks a year paying $125 or $145 just in the first, second, third, fourth and fifth grade. She truly believes that you have to invest in this Town to get something out of it. Monroe is one of the only Town’s that do not have something for these kids all the time.
Chalk Hill was the next topic of discussion. First Selectman Vavrek said that he has vendors who will be sending in proposals and he would like to defer the discussion until Wednesday. He said that there are several potential revenue sources including an outside sporting group, the YMCA and Bridgeport Hospital teaching services. He continued he was confident that there are viable options to keep the facility open and generating revenue for the community. First Selectman Vavrek added that the new Parks and Recreation Director, Francis Cooper, has experience in turning buildings like this around. Chairman Reed asked if the board voted to mothball the building and in July, they had people interested in it, would there be a downside. Chairman Reed also asked what the costs were to keep the facility open and First Selectman Vavrek said that he would request from the board that even if they choose to mothball the building, that they keep the building open through Labor Day as there are ongoing programs such as Summer Fun Days. The cost to keep it open is approximately $40,000 a month though it was noted it would be less during the summer months as heating wouldn’t be necessary. Chairman Reed reiterated that it is risky if they decide to keep it open and the revenue doesn’t materialize but if the board decides to mothball the building and then revenue is located, there is no downside. Mr. Tomchik said that the building would need to be checked on a regular basis if it was mothballed.
Board Member Quinlan said there were just too many variables and no specific plans; he added he was wrestling with how to evaluate the potential for Chalk Hill to generate revenue because there was not a lot of information received and it was unlikely that they would receive it by Wednesday. Rick Zini said that there are a lot of issues with the building and that it is not suitable for use as a school and to re-open it as a school will cost in excess of $15,000,000. The cost to mothball it is approximately $150,000 a year. Chairman Reed stated that there is no downside to the option of mothballing the building; Debbie Dutches noted there are 2 immediate concerns: the boilers which are the original and the windows which are single pane without seals; “no matter what you do, those are concerns.” The board members agreed to mothball Chalk Hill at this time.
Kelly Plunkett said that during the budget process the focus has been on the numbers and the importance of having a plan. She said that a few weeks ago, the first selectman asked a group of individuals for ideas to keep Chalk Hill open. Ms. Plunkett said that tonight they “were here to help paint a very small vision of Chalk Hill and its potential.” She stressed that they were not asking for more than the $150,000 the board had already put into the budget to mothball the building. She continued that business owners and activities representatives were in attendance to speak about the “untapped potential” that Chalk Hill has to offer.
Dawn Ryan, owner of the Monroe Early Learning Center said she provides childcare to both Monroe teachers and municipal employees and now has “the ability to go outside the box.” She said that she pays $12,000 a year for 2 rooms and she is currently the sole renter in the building. Ms. Ryan said that before she could occupy the space, she had to have numerous tests done to the building which she passed in every facet. There was a 163 line item check list that was required by the state in order to go into the rooms and the inspector told her that she was the first in 2 years to pass all the items “without blemish.” Ms. Ryan added that she is looking to expand to another room due to increasing enrollment and that she would pay $20,000 per year. She noted that the Monroe Early Learning Center has already begun to network with other businesses that have been in the building. Ms. Ryan said that she wants to be able to continue her program throughout the summer; “Chalk Hill can be a progressive revenue generating business that is being overlooked.” Board Member Quinlan asked Ms. Ryan who paid for the tests and what was the cost; Ms. Ryan replied that she paid approximately $5000 for the tests.
Kim Henderson, owner of Studio on the Move, a mobile art studio, also spoke about the revenue potential at Chalk Hill. She provided board members with a schedule of courses she planned to offer as well as projections for potential revenue for Parks and Recreation. She said that with the closing of another art studio in town, there is a great demand for this type of business and that 62 children have already enrolled for her Open House event without any publicizing from the town.
Ms. Plunkett added that 25% of Ms. Henderson’s fees will go to Parks and Recreation. She added that another business owner, Liz Cerrato, is also interested in housing her business, Food Jules, at Chalk Hill. She added that Ms. Cerrato currently offers classes at the library and at the elementary schools through the Arts and Imagination program and there is strong demand for her classes. Eliza Wiser, a yoga instructor, also expressed interest in renting space at Chalk Hill. Leia Schultz reiterated that all they are asking for is mothball level funding for Chalk Hill. She said that she has seen her children and her money go to neighboring towns for activities and sports practices and again, keeping Chalk Hill open would allow funds to remain in town.
Jennifer Agular spoke about having Teen Night at Chalk Hill as she said that the YMCA currently runs a program that brings in a large number of children. She said that they propose that it would be run by volunteers. She provided the board numbers with estimates of projected attendance and revenue. Ms. Agular continued that offering food could easily generate thousands of dollars in additional revenue. Chairman Reed said that only the revenue was listed, no expenses were listed; Ms. Agular added that it would be totally volunteer and if there were less than 300 cars, they would not have to pay for police. Ms. Plunkett added that they are considering offering discount coupons to local establishments for parents to visit while their children attend the event. She continued there is still the possibility of Alternative Education moving to Chalk Hill but the Board of Education does not want to commit for a year; a lease would generate approximately $40,000 a year.
Ms. Plunkett continued that it is the group’s understanding that the Board of Finance members and the Town Council are in favor of keeping Chalk Hill open as long as there is a plan and the plan should be at least revenue neutral. She said that with the current messaging that the building is mothballed, there is a sense within town that the building is closed and people are questioning whether they should sign up for camps and activities. Ms. Plunkett continued that they are asking the board to make it clear that they are funding Chalk Hill at the mothball level and that it is up to the first selectman and the new Parks and Recreation Director to develop a plan with a definitive deadline. Ms. Plunkett said that without the proper messaging, “you are sealing the fate of this building.”
Chairman Reed thanked the group for coming to tonight’s meeting and noted that they provided the board members with details that they had not previously had; he continued they would have further discussion on it and they would make a recommendation for a deadline. Chairman Reed added that the board’s decision to provide the funding to mothball Chalk Hill was done in the hopes that a plan could be evolved to keep it open. He added that there will be a Planning and Zoning hearing on Chalk Hill next month and Mr. Zini advised the group to put together a business plan and stated the planning commission would be happy to assist them but they will need as much detail and figures as possible. Chairman Reed noted that he received emails from Jane Horton who was in favor of keeping Chalk Hill open and one from Jim Winkler who agreed that the Board of Education’s medical reserve fund should at a level of 25% and he was also in favor of keeping Chalk Hill open.
Chalk Hill Update-First Selectman Vavrek said that the numbers he provided to the board were accurate as of today. He said that the delta to keep the building open is $295,044 and the budget includes $150,000 to mothball it. Because there are no signed contracts or commitments from
tenants, he recommends mothballing Chalk Hill. Doug Arndt assisted in putting the numbers together and he said that there was been a lack of clarity in terminology regarding hibernation and mothballing. Vice-Chairman Manjos said that it was his understanding that Chalk Hill would be closed to the public and the heat and water kept at a level that would keep the building in a condition that would allow it to re-open; Mr. Arndt responded that he was correct. Vice-Chairman Manjos asked about the estimated costs for lighting, power and heat as the figures are considerably higher than they were a few years ago. Mr. Arndt stated that the calculations were based on the building being used at full capacity; Vice-Chairman Manjos added that the estimates to keep Chalk Hill were for full use and realistically, the numbers could be reduced. Mr. Tomchik added that due to volatility in the markets, they could only work with the information they had at the time; since the numbers were calculated, oil costs have declined. Ms. Meade added that the cost to maintain the building decreased to a cost of $12,000 for one individual; the Board of Education’s cost was $213,000. Vice-Chairman Manjos continued that the biggest variance was the heating costs and he had concerns with the 20% contingency to keep the building open; he added that there should be a contingency to replace the boilers in 2-3 years. He added that the delta of $290,000 is not what they should be looking at, the board should be looking at the cost of keeping it open and closing it;
“the number we put into the budget was a figure we now know was wrong so the decision shouldn’t be based on a number we know is wrong, a decision should be made on the upside/downside and the cost of hibernation compared against the cost of keeping it open.” Vice-Chairman Manjos continued that the Board of Finance’s role is to examine the numbers; he added the delta is $180,000 with the potential to bring down the heating costs. Mr. Tomchik reiterated the uncertainty and stated the bottom line is that they need to get firm numbers. He added that the consortium won’t lock into the cost for heating until July. Ms. Plunkett updated the board on revenue and it was noted that there are no programs that are a guarantee; it had previously been stated that Parks and Recreation would get 25% of the revenue from programs. Ms. Plunkett said that attendance at Teen Night has increased significantly and Ms. Meade noted that though the growth was impressive, they were still at a deficit from a financial perspective. Vice-Chairman Manjos also noted that the increase in participation was significant but he wanted to know if that type of number was realistic to expect over time. Vice-Chairman Manjos asked that Mr. Arndt continue to work on the numbers.
Vice Chairman O’Hara explained to the Commission that he attended some recent Town meetings. One was a Town Council meeting and one a Chalk Hill Citizens Group Meeting. The attendees of the meeting as well as a member of Town Council were portraying the Planning and Zoning Commission wrongly. Vice Chairman O’Hara had concern that people are jumping to conclusions on the Chalk Hill issue with the Planning and Zoning Commission, when they have not read the regulations or spoke to Staff or the Commission about their issues with Chalk Hill.
Chairman Zini talked about CIFAP and what they are doing with Chalk Hill. CIFAP is looking for information from Administration on CIFAP so that things can get moving with it. There is some controversy about what is allowed and not in the school building due to the Zoning Regulations. Chairman Zini showed some concern for the businesses that are currently in Chalk Hill and the Zoning Regulations. The uses and future uses for the building should be proposed to the Commission.
There was discussion on the Study of Chalk Hill that was done in 2008, as well as a discussion on a study that was done in 2010.
Chairman Zini thinks that the Department Heads of the Town should get together and work on this together. It would be beneficial for the Town and the members of it.
Chairman Zini asks that the Commission be aware that they will be assembled as a full Commission in July to assist in the planning process.
Chalk Hill Private Partnership Proposal and Cost Estimates-Chairman Reed said that as First Selectman Vavrek was absent at tonight’s meeting, they would only be reviewing the cost estimates. This year’s actuals are approximately $250,000 with the major costs being $91,000 for light and power and $123,000 for heat. Board Member Quinlan asked for a “Reader’s Digest version” of what is staying open and what hibernation means; Mr. Arndt said that keeping open means the business and programs that are being held there this year (Parks and Recreation
programs, the daycare center and EMS) would remain. He said that any additional use will need to be looked at on a per use basis as maintenance and electrical costs would increase. It was said that if the building is closed, they would have to have someone monitor it. Chairman Reed noted the $50,000 contingency and Mr. Arndt said that it is a figure of reference, there is nothing that he recommends the town doing at this time as the building is “a pretty sound system.” Chairman Reed asked what would happen if they shut the system down and drain the pipes; Mr. Arndt replied that some of the infrastructure might deteriorate to the point where there is a potential for the town to incur greater costs Chairman Reed stated that he was not in favor of one plan versus another but that the board needed to know the options. Board Member Quinlan wanted to know what is included in the contracted cost and operating expenses and why there was a combined increase of $90,000. Chairman Reed also asked about the operating costs as the actual cost is $9,000 and the projected for next year to keep open cost is $43,000; Mr. Arndt said that $50,840 would be for an additional full time staff member with benefits. Mr. Tomchik said that the numbers captured what they have paid for during this period of time. Chairman Reed stated that with the salary expenses and operating expenses shooting up, he was skeptical of the numbers. The cost for the major contracted services (heat, light and power) are relatively flat, the significant increase is the actual on the labor. Board Member Quinlan asked if there was a janitor included in contracted services in year one; Mr. Arndt said that in year one there are some additional services to prepare for hibernation. Ms. Meade provided the board members with a breakdown of the expenses. ViceChairman Manjos asked where they were in regards to the proposal for another use; Chairman Reed said that he would like to hold a special meeting next week to discuss the status of the proposal. The board members in attendance agreed to meet on Tuesday, June 26th at 7:30 p.m. Chairman Reed asked for the operating cost to close the building versus the $2 million demolition costs. Mr. Arndt said that the cost would be approximately $100,000 though there may be additional costs to have it monitored. Chairman Reed reiterated that $100,000-150,000 is an approximate cost for a total shut-down and $375,000 to keep Chalk Hill open.
Chalk Hill Update: Ongoing meetings with various department heads and Board of Education with Mr. Kimball. Next full meeting, October 29, 2012. Usage and locations are being discussed. Safety, parking, building code questions are depended on usages.
First Selectman Vavrek also discussed the three alternatives regarding Chalk Hill Middle School. Alternative 1 was to keep Chalk Hill open, alternative 2 was to close Chalk Hill, and alternative 3 was to demolish the Chalk Hill facility. He handed out information to all council members.
All five active school building would see improvements. Also town buildings would benefit from upgrades, including the Town Hall, the library, the Senior Center, three firehouses, and public works, animal control and park facilities. They stated no work will be done on Chalk Hill because of the uncertainty about its future.
Dave York, 14 Webegme, stated as a town resident he encourages as much study of Chalk Hill’s facility and believes it has more life in it. Mr. York noted as the Emergency Management Director for the Town of Monroe, they developed a certified emergency response team (CERT) and have 35 people in the program and need a home. He stated they have much material scattered in different places and can use a home such as the Chalk Hill facility as their shelter. He stated the Senior Center is not equipped with showers and really not hurricane proof. Mr. York noted they need a permanent building that would be available for such shelters. He noted that Chalk Hill can be used for multiple purposes, and he would like to see it used as a reserve for a shelter as it already has a generator.
And that’s just a sample of minutes from 2012, up until the day of the shooting. By my count, the problematic Chalk Hill building is discussed at least twenty-six times in those meetings. Conversely, there’s absolutely zero mention of “Sandy Hook” in any meeting until the following Monroe Board of Finance meeting from December 19th, 2012:
Chalk Hill Status (Sandy Hook School)-Mr. Tomchik said that code compliances will be satisfied before the students return to school which probably won’t be until after the first of the year; “it is a fluid situation”. He added that EMS which is currently housed there will go into the basement, the Daycare is still there and there is a possibility that Parks and Recreation may move from their current location at Chalk Hill. Mr. Tomchik continued that there are still a lot of issues to be addressed. Chairman Reed asked who signs off on the code, Mr. Tomchik replied that it was the State Board of Education; Mr. Tomchik added there are minimum standards to be met.
It was just two days earlier that Newtown’s Legislative Council held an emergency meeting to secure Chalk Hill for Sandy Hook’s students. I was able to obtain a scan of the December 17th agreement referred to in the minutes of that meeting by filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the town of Monroe:agreement_for_use
Unsurprisingly, Chalk Hill, Sandy Hook, and Newtown are mentioned quite a bit in various meetings after December 19th. All of these documents are available online, so you’re certainly more than welcome to see them all for yourself, but here are some that I think are worth highlighting:
MOTION TO APPROVE MUNICIPAL REFERRAL 8-24 FOR CHALK HILL BUILDING TO BE RECOMMISSIONED TO BE A SCHOOL
Chairman O’Hara opened the meeting by calling for a positive motion to approve Municipal Referral 8-24, responding to a request from the First Selectman, Stephen Vavrek, to reinstate the Chalk Hill Building, 375 Fan Hill Road, for use as a school.
MOTION: (W. Porter)
SECOND: (B. Quinn, J. Weinberg)
Discussion: Chairman O’Hara read a letter into the record from First Selectman Stephen J. Vavrek dated December 17, 2012, detailed as follows:
Dear Chairman O’Hara:
In compliance with Connecticut General Statutes Section 8-24, this serves as a formal request to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a municipal referral with regards to the following:
Whereas the Chalk Hill School (375 Fan Hill Road) has previously been turned over to the Town for municipal use other than a public school; The Town and Board of Education hereby requests that the building and complex be reinstated for use as a municipal school by the Town of Monroe and/or the Monroe Board of Education, and/or the Town of Newtown Board of Education.
Thank you for your anticipation consideration and/or comments.
Stephen J. Vavrek
Motion Passes 5-0 (Ayes: O’Hara, Martin, Porter, Quinn, Weinberg
Polling of Alternates for the Record: (Ayes: Lindstrom, Flader, O’Rourke)
Mr. Schatzlein commented that in its response to the First Selectman, the Commission is sending this positive referral based on the determination that the proposed change of use back to a school complies with zoning requirements, is in harmony with the Plan of Conservation and Development, and fits in with the existing school campus use of the property.
Chairman O’Hara thanked the Commission for their expressions of sympathy upon the loss of his father. He indicated that his father had passed away just the evening before; however, he felt it was important to show up this meeting concerning the reassignment of the Sandy Hook students to Chalk Hill in honor of his father, who was a teacher in Newtown for 27 years.
Chairman O’Hara wished all in attendance a Merry Christmas, and then excused himself from the meeting. Vice Chairman Porter took over for the remainder of the meeting.
First Selectman’s Update
First Selectman Vavrek reported that it has been one month since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. He wanted to thank Town Council and Planning and Zoning for doing everything in such a timely fashion and hopes everything continues to work along these lines. He noted it was a tremendous team effort. First Selectman Vavrek stated the new gym floor has been refinished in green and white signifying the Newtown color. He also thanked Kelly Plunkett and Jennifer Aguilar for all their community efforts leading volunteers to build a playground outside the school. Councilmember Kapoor stated at the last Town Council meeting a discussion was made about the date of budget and how Charter stipulates February 8, 2013 is the deadline that the budget needs to get to Council. He wanted to know if there was any plan. First Selectman Vavrek stated the budget will be given on February 8, 2013 and he will have a presentation on February 11, 2012. He did not feel comfortable having a town meeting on a Friday night. First Selectman Vavrek wanted as many people to come and hear this the presentation. Councilmember Kapoor also asked if there was any way in the budget books to have organizational charts for the departments. First Selectman Vavrek stated since working with Munis, hopefully we will have a better rounded budget. First Selectman Vavrek also noted the Parks and Recreation Department is now at 7 Fan Hill Road in the Land Use Room.
FIRST SELECTMAN’S COMMUNICATIONS- First Selectman Vavrek announced Doug Arndt’s resignation from Public Works effective Friday as he has accepted a position in New Haven. First Selectman Vavrek updated the board on Chalk Hill, now known as Sandy Hook Elementary. He said that he has been assured that all costs to refurbish the building will be reimbursed by the state. Chairman Reed asked about the procedure for reimbursement, First Selectman Vavrek said that he would send the information to the board and to the Finance Department. Chairman Reed asked Mr. Tomchik if he needed additional support in the Finance Department and Mr. Tomchik replied that they are managing at this time.
First Selectman Vavrek continued that “one of the collateral damages” of the tragedy was that many people in town continue to be traumatized and that extra support and counseling was needed. He said that funds for those services need to be brought back into the budget. First Selectman Vavrek continued that he felt the Board of Education’s proposed budget was lean and he applauded Superintendent Agostine for putting in full day Kindergarten and for allocating the $300,000 towards security. He urged the board to accept the Board of Education’s proposed budget as he believes “every dollar in that budget is needed to move the district forward.” First Selectman Vavrek noted that the budget is fluid and that there are still some unknowns including the state mandate funding. The budget will be released to the Town Council on February 8th and the presentation will be on Monday, February 11th. Chairman Reed asked if they needed additional police and First Selectman Vavrek replied it will be a topic of discussion. He noted that in addition to the ongoing issues at the Chalk Hill building, there are also the concerns expressed by parents within the Monroe community regarding security. First Selectman Vavrek added that while some parents and staff find the police presence to be comforting, there are others who don’t. Chairman Reed asked if the town would be reimbursed for the cost of the additional officers at Sandy Hook. First Selectman Vavrek replied that they would and Chairman Reed stated that they should have something in writing to avoid any confusion. First Selectman Vavrek also noted that the governor will be expediting the extension of the natural gas lines to be installed at town hall and at Masuk.
Motion: (E. Lipeles)
Town Council authorized the Town Attorney to finalize a negotiation agreement with the Town of Newtown regarding use of the Chalk Hill building used by Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Second: (T. Unger)
Motion passed 9-0
Certainly what’s obvious here is that even as recently as November of 2012, just a month before the shooting, Monroe had absolutely no idea what to do with the nearly empty Chalk Hill. But something that may be a little less obvious, yet still very important, is just how much work needed to go into the site before it could once again function as a school. Not only had the building been returned to the town for municipal use in 2011 (only becoming a school again after being granted a municipal referral on December 20th, 2012), but it was in notoriously poor condition. Even back in 2010, two years after building renovations had been shelved due to its questionable future, the school did not meet state education specifications for a school and was only permitted to remain open because it had been grandfathered in. The town couldn’t even repurpose it as a lower elementary school if it wanted to due to the fact that the cafeteria and library were on the third floor and Connecticut state fire regulations prohibit kindergarten and grade one students from being housed above ground level, with grade two students not permitted above the second floor of any structure. Mechanically, the building’s boilers were original and there was a very real concern that they could blow if not replaced. Underground water pipes were also in desperate need of replacement, and the single pane, unsealed windows were forty years-old. Chairman (and architect) Rick Zini claimed that there were so many issues with the building that re-opening it as a school would cost in excess of $15,000,000.
There were also a number of smaller issues with the school that came to light during its inspection by the Fire Marshal prior to its reopening. As seen in the following document, which I obtained as part of my Freedom of Information Act request with the town of Monroe, the Fire Marshal discovered conditions “contrary to minimum requirements” of existing building codes and submitted an “acceptable plan of correction”:fire_marshal_inspection-1
Note the second page, which lists ten issues that “need to be addressed prior to the Schools opening!“. This document is dated December 28th, 2012.
That’s not all. Documents obtained by me as part of yet another FOIA request show that during an asbestos and radon analysis ordered by Monroe Public Schools (not Newtown) in May of 2011, asbestos was detected in the countertops of the school’s (referred to as Chalk Hill Middle School and not Sandy Hook Elementary) science laboratory:
Notice the analysis date is May 4th, 2011, which would have been a Wednesday during the normal school year. Surely they wouldn’t test for asbestos in a classroom smack dab in the middle of a school week. Furthermore, what kind of elementary school has a science lab? Certainly not Sandy Hook as none are listed on the school’s floor plan:
As it turns out, Chalk Hill was exactly in the kind of condition that Wolfgang Halbig has always claimed Sandy Hook was in. Certainly that irony is not lost on me.
So it’s clear that Chalk Hill could not and did not host any public school students, let alone those from neighboring Newtown, at any point between 2010 and January of 2013. And that was only after significant work had been done to the property. In an article published by NPR on December 22nd, 2012, Monroe first selectman Steve Vavrek described how “movers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and painters, many of them volunteers” had been “working around the clock to bring the building up to code and turn it into a near-replica of the Sandy Hook school.” And we already know that Sandy Hook remained open and active up to and including the day of the shooting, because I’ve already written about it ad nauseum. If you need a recap, start here and make your way through all (as of this writing) fifteen parts. If that’s too much reading for you, I’d at least recommend the following as they offer a glimpse inside the school much closer to the shooting, at a time when Wolfgang definitively claims that the students were already located at Chalk Hill:
This entry includes information about and photos of Sandy Hook’s November 2012 Scholastic Book Fair. The photos show the distinct interior of the school and even includes items that wouldn’t have existed prior to late 2012.
While this entry includes photos dating all the way back to 2008 (as the original claim about the school was that it had been closed that year), scroll down to the bottom and you’ll see a number of photos taken from inside the school after April of 2012 (which is the earliest date shown in Wolfgang’s screenshots).
School principal and one of Adam’s first victims after entering the school, Dawn Hochsprung started a Twitter account just before the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year and used it to post a number of images from in and around the school. The photo shown above (posted by Mrs. Hochsprung on October 18th, 2012) includes victim James Mattioli and his older sister, Anna.
Something else worth looking at – and something deniers will have a very hard time labeling as “fake” or “Photoshopped” – would be the Google Earth views of both Sandy Hook and Chalk Hill from 2012.
While both satellite photos were taken towards the end of the 2011-2012 school year (on March 29th, 2012 to be precise), Wolfgang believes his Compass Group screenshot shows that deliveries for Sandy Hook were being made to Chalk Hill as early as late April of 2012, so it’s not too much of a stretch to believe that he believes the children were there even earlier. After all, if they were to relocate students, why would they do so two months before the end of the school year? Surely Halbig would argue they began the school year at Chalk Hill and therefore would be there in late March. Unfortunately for him, these satellite images don’t support his claim.
First, here’s Chalk Hill:
Notice the date: 3/29/2012. Then look around a bit and see if you notice any telltale signs of an elementary school. There is no playground, soccer field, baseball diamond, etc. The parking lot even contains those dreaded yellow handicapped parking spaces (top right) that Halbig, Fetzer, and crew have claimed are a violation of the ADA and therefore proof that a building is closed. Whoops!
Now compare that to the satellite image of Sandy Hook School, taken on the very same day:
The parking lot is full of cars and the playground is buzzing with children:
Hell, you can even clearly make out the shadows of children swinging on the swings, for Christ’s sake. If you’re a denier, how do you even begin to explain this? Did Google fake their satellite images for this day? Did Newtown find out they were taking satellite photos and send dozens and dozens of child actors to the school to use the playground? There is absolutely no one in their right mind that would say that this looks like an abandoned school. It’s lunacy.
And while the following satellite photo of Sandy Hook from the United States Geological Survey unfortunately does not go as far as showing children actually playing on the school’s playground, it does tell a similar story:
Taken at some point in the morning (based on a shadow analysis), we see a relatively full parking lot. While not at capacity, surely everyone can agree that ninety (by my count) cars are inarguably far, far more than one would expect to see at an abandoned school. It’s also entirely consistent with what one would’ve seen back in 2007, when even the most out-there conspiracy theorist would agree that the school was open:
While the above photo shows about ten more cars in the lot, there were also somewhere between 9-11 more school employees in 2007 (~85) than there were in 2012 (76), according to the school district’s publicly available budgets. That works out to .85 employees per car in 2007 and .84 employees per car in 2012 (and before some chucklehead tells me that doesn’t make any sense, remember that schools do have visitors).
Comparatively, returning to the website of the United States Geological Survey, here’s the former Chalk Hill Middle School in March of 2012:
Captured at roughly the same time as the Geological Survey’s map of Sandy Hook, this photo shows a nearly empty parking lot at Chalk Hill. In fact, there only appear to be about twenty cars in the lot at this time. Unless everyone carpooled, this would obviously not be enough to fully staff the school.
Now fast forward a bit to the following satellite photo of Chalk Hill taken on September 19th, 2013, which would place it towards the very beginning of the 2013-2014 school year and over eight months after Sandy Hook’s students actually moved in:
That’s quite a difference. Not only are there now somewhere around seventy more cars in the lot (equaling the number of cars present at the school’s old location in the satellite photo from March of 2012), but now it actually looks like a school: there are soccer fields where there were none, a small parking area has been replaced with a playground, crosswalks and four square have been added to the parking lot, etc. You can even see children scattered all over the place.
Sandy Hook, again in a photo taken the very same day, also looks quite different:
No cars and no children on a school day… this is what an abandoned school actually looks like.
Let’s also consider the school’s signage. Here’s a photo of Chalk Hill from December 17th, 2012, which is the day items started arriving from Sandy Hook. Notice that the grey stone “Chalk Hill School” sign located directly in front of the building has not yet been covered up and the large “Sandy Hook Elementary School” sign on the front of the building is nowhere to be found:
Here’s what the stone “Chalk Hill School” sign looks like up close:
And here’s what the school looked like a little over two weeks later, on January 3rd, 2013, as Sandy Hook’s students returned to school for the first time since the shooting:
Here’s what the temporary Sandy Hook signage, which did not appear before December 17th, 2012, looked like up close:
The same goes for the stone “Monroe Middle School Campus” sign located on Fan Hill Road, at the end of the long driveway leading to the former Chalk Hill School. This is what it looked like on December 18th, 2012 as workers continued to move items from Sandy Hook to their new, temporary location:
And as this photo taken later that month shows, even as neighbors hung huge banners welcoming the Sandy Hook children, the Monroe Middle School Campus sign remained unchanged:
But by early January of 2013 (note the amount of snow on the ground, which is consistent with the other photos taken at this time), this sign had also been modified to reflect Sandy Hook Elementary’s new location:
If Sandy Hook Elementary School, as a whole, had actually been relocated to the site of the former Chalk Hill School months or even years (if you believe that Sandy Hook was closed all the way back in 2008) before the shooting, why wasn’t the signage updated until sometime after December 17th, 2012? Maybe we’re supposed to believe that they simply forgot.
So once again we’re left with more Halbig hokum exposed for the trash that it is. Two screenshots that debunk themselves and a third that stinks to high heavens stacked up against years worth of news articles, meeting minutes, photos, satellite imagery, etc. When people ask me “why haven’t you addressed Wolfgang’s latest claims?”, this is why. I can’t even say he’s the boy who cried wolf because even he eventually encountered an actual wolf. Halbig is nothing more than an opportunistic liar and he needs to be treated as such until the day he can actually provide some sort of substance to his claims and be transparent with his “work”.
For more on Wolfgang’s slimy bullshit, please see the following:
Fact Checking “Nobody Died At Sandy Hook”, Chapter Three
Dust Your Checkbook Off, Wolfgang
Wily Wolfgang Weasels His Way Out Of Another One
Fact-Checking More Of Wolfgang Halbig’s Absolute Nonsense
To download the forty-four pages of documents I received in reply to my Freedom of Information Act request made with Monroe Township, Connecticut in regards to the Chalk Hill transition, click here.
Update [01/12/19]: In a truly batshit reply to an objection to motion in the currently ongoing defamation case against him, Halbig has submitted to the court the following cropped version of the AS/400 screenshot discussed (and debunked) above:
Notice he has wisely stripped out the customer/maintenance notes on the second screen which showed the school’s address was changed on January 2nd, 2013. I wonder who finally clued him in. Regardless, submitting a known altered screenshot as an exhibit? Bold strategy, Cotton.