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School Building Committee to ask for funds again

STONINGTON — Members of the K-12 School Building Committee decided at their meeting Tuesday that they will go back to the Board of Finance with the same money request the board denied last week.

It’s money that is crucial if plans to renovate and expand two of the town’s aging elementary schools are to move forward within the next several years, members said.

The Board of Finance voted to include the request of up to $50,000, earmarked to hire an architect who would develop conceptual plans and determine the cost of the project, in the 2014-15 budget as a capital improvement item.

But finance board member June Strunk, who also serves on the K-12 School Building Committee, urged fellow committee members to “go back” to the board and ask for the money separate of the budget because of fears that come budget time, the capital improvement portion will get “hammered.”

“It happens every year,” said Strunk, who was the only member of the Board of Finance who voted against including the money in the 2014-15 budget. “Budgets come back high and the CIP budget gets cut. I think we need to keep it out of there altogether.”

A new timeline will accompany the request — the finance board’s rejection halted any chance the committee had to meet a state deadline of June 30, 2014, to submit a project application. The project is now put off for at least another year.

Members ironed out a timeline that, if the money is approved, would see a town referendum next fall. The state submission needs to include certification that the project has been approved in a referendum. If the application makes the deadline of June 30, 2015, and the project received approval in mid-2016, officials estimate money would be available in 2017. Committee members also are scheduling a joint meeting with the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen to discuss the project. Right now, the estimated cost for the renovation and expansion of West Vine Street School is about $22.3 million and nearly $20 million for Deans Mill School.

“We have a path,” K-12 School Building Committee Chairman Robert Marseglia said. “That was one of the goals, collectively decide where we go from here.”

Committee members were still reeling Tuesday, nearly a week after the finance board denied their request for money, calling the decision “a shock.” “There was a tremendous amount of fear that (the project) would be passed and bonded before the town could afford it,” Strunk said. “There was also concern that the town would be voting on a referendum and budget at the same time.”

Marseglia added: “This committee would not put the town in jeopardy of over-taxing the people.”

Stonington Superintendent of Schools Van W. Riley has said there is a “strong need for this elementary schools project” to move forward.

Riley said as it stands now, “hundreds of thousands of dollars” of repairs will be needed to make temporary fixes — money the district will have to include in its capital improvement plan budget for 2014-15.

The district’s CIP report will be presented at tonight’s Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. in the Stonington High School Commons.

“Our roof systems are leaking right now,” Riley said. “They won’t last.”

While Deans Mill School is part of the project, focus has fallen on the West Broad Street and West Vine Street schools, whose students share one principal but are split between two campuses about a mile apart. Committee members and Riley contend the two buildings are insufficient in several areas, including space, technology and security. The committee’s plan is to renovate and expand the West Vine Street campus, which sits on a large parcel of land, to hold all of Pawcatuck’s K-4 students, who this year number about 340.

“It’s a delicate balance,” First Selectman Ed Haberek Jr. said Wednesday, “talking about bonding and a budget at the same time. Hopefully the Board of Finance will reconsider. Right now, the $50,000 is in the CIP, and that could go through.”

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