I am in favor of moving forward with the schools project approved by voters last October – and here’s why.
- The problems at Consolidated Elementary School and New Fairfield High School are serious. Delay in addressing them will only make them worse. The this week’s storm reminds us how leaky Consolidated is. If school were in session, more likely than not, the multipurpose room could not be used. The cost of the required repairs for these buildings far exceeds the cost of building two new schools.
- We are on the State’s priority list for projects they are planning to bond – an achievement that took much effort by a number of people. Quitting now will pull us off that priority list and force us to start the whole process over from the very beginning, with no guarantee of achieving the priority list anytime soon. Stopping the project now essentially negates the October referendum.
- The state has committed to fund approximately 27% of the High School and 37% of Consolidated. We were recently told by legislative leadership that the commitment to fund school projects has always been strong and will remain so. While the current economic climate will stress all budgets, the state is in better economic shape now than it was two years ago. If the state is ready to go, we need to be ready to go too.
- We are in the planning and design stage for both schools. Being able to complete this stage in the next year — about the time plans are being made to bring us out of a recession – will put us in a good position. Governments at all levels will be looking for shovel-ready projects to put people back to work. We need to be ready when they are.
- John Hodge noted last fall that one of the reasons the Meetinghouse Hill School project came in under budget was that constructions costs were lower coming out of the Great Recession of 2008. That same phenomenon may work for us about the time we go out to bid for construction.
- If state funding is delayed (which we are not anticipating), we are not obligated to move forward on our own. We will have a set of plans ready to go – at or below the price tag approved by voters in October– when state funding becomes available.
- Several contracts are already in place and work is under way, including for an architectural firm and project manager. Time and money will have been wasted if we stop work now and have to start all over from the very beginning.
- This planning and design stage will be funded by bonds that were recently sold at a very good interest rate, saving us approximately $13,000 this coming year. Service of this debt in the budget for the coming year will be accommodated while still keeping the property tax increase low. All three Boards – Selectmen, Finance, and Education – are working cooperatively to keep the increase low.
For these reasons, I support continuing to move forward with this phase of the schools project. I also support the purchase of 78 Gillotti, a property that is surrounded on four sides by town property. The availability for purchase of this property was not known until just before the October referendum – too late to wrap it into the project. Purchase of this property allows the building site for the High School to be moved from the original proposal, saving about $2,200,000 in construction costs by not having to move three wells and an athletic field. It also improves school security and traffic flow into and out of the site – two important considerations.
Working closely with the Board of Finance, we will likely fund the purchase of the property without raising taxes by taking money out of an existing fund made up of monies that had been appropriated but not spent for past capital projects. Additionally, the Permanent Building Committee, which oversees this project, will take approximately half a million dollars of that construction savings out of the construction budget to put in the contingency fund to be returned to taxpayers if the project come in under budget. In short, the financial impact of purchasing this property will be positive.
I take very seriously people’s concerns and fears about the current situation and the impact it will have on pocketbooks – as does every member of the Boards of Selectmen, Finance and Education. We know a number of New Fairfielders are no longer getting the paycheck they count on and a number of families face economic hardship they had not anticipated. I firmly believe continuing to move ahead with this step of the project will not exacerbate that hardship and will keep us on the path of building the two new schools our children and community deserve.