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General Assembly Easily Approves School Construction Grants

General Assembly Easily Approves School Construction Grants

CT News Junkie, July 24, 2019

By Christine Stuart

Touted by lawmakers as the smallest school construction package in years, $160.5 million in grants for eight new school construction projects was passed with little debate Monday.

The total project cost for the eight new projects will be $229 million, $68.5 million of which will be paid by municipalities.

Two of the eight new schools will be built in Fairfield, and one each will be built in Bridgeport, Enfield, Norwalk, Simsbury, Middletown, and Newington.

The legislation also increases state reimbursement for three school construction projects in Hartford — one at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, one at Burns Latino Studies Academy, and one at Bulkeley High School. 

The reimbursement rate for Birch Grove Primary School in Tolland will also increase. The school needed to be replaced sooner than 2020 due to the spider-like cracks associated with concrete deterioration due to the presence of the mineral pyrrhotite. Tolland will see a $20.9 million increase from the legislation.

Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, said she visited the school and saw the deterioration first hand and is supportive of including the additional funding in the bill.

“This is one of the smallest school construction packages we’ve done in a long time,” Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, said.

The bill, which now goes to Gov. Ned Lamont for his signature, approved a total of $271.7 million in state grant commitments for school construction projects.  

Other changes too back to top

The legislation also makes changes to school construction laws.

One section of the bill lowers the reimbursement rate for diversity school projects.

Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, who co-chairs the Education Committee, said lawmakers made the change because Greenwich used it for one school and then was able to get reimbursement from the state for 80 percent of the cost of building that school.

Greenwich is a community that traditionally wouldn’t receive much help from the state for school construction based on the wealth of the community.

“The diversity was only within one school in Greenwich so it didn’t do what we actually wanted it to do,” McCrory said. “It was a loophole.”

Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he has a problem with the approach. He said the 80 percent reimbursement was offered as an incentive to promote diversity in communities.

“The removing of the 80% seems to be a disincentive,” Sampson said.

Sampson was the only Senator to vote against the package, which passed 30-1 in the Senate.

The House passed the same bill 93-35.

The projected debt service cost to the general fund to issue $271.7 million in bonds at a 5.25% interest rate for a 20-year term is $401.2 million.