Officials must take a second look at the Newtown Middle School roof project now that they have learned that if the building were to stop being used as a school in the future, Newtown would have to pay back part of a nearly $1 million reimbursement grant expected from the state.
“The reason that is a concern is because there has been quite a bit of conversation, unresolved conversation, about whether or not the middle school will be a middle school (in the future),” First Selectman Pat Llodra told the Legislative Council on Wednesday.
The middle school if the district's student enrollment dipped below a certain threshold. While enrollment has been on the decline, officials are far from making any decisions.
Still, a Board of Finance member asked Llodra during a meeting on Monday whether the town was in jeopardy of losing part of an estimated nearly $1 million in state reimbursement grants if the middle school or even part of it were closed or turn over for municipal uses in the next five to 10 years.
On Tuesday, Llodra called the state Bureau of School Facilities, which is in charge of the reimbursement program, and learned that Newtown would have to pay back some of the grant, amortized over the life of a bond, should the building or even a part of it were to stop functioning as a school, she told the council on Wednesday.
Newtown had been counting on state reimbursement as a reason to undertake the multi-million dollar roof replacement project, though officials now may have to re-evaluate the decision.
“It’s not necessarily the case that the information is a project killer,” Llodra said at the council meeting.
Officials from the Board of Finance and Legislative Council plan to gather on Monday, June 20, one hour prior to the Board of Selectmen meeting or next Thursday, June 23, prior to the Board of Finance meeting. Llodra said she would work on scheduling that meeting depending on people's availability.
Another complication with the Newtown Middle School roof project is that, at the moment, the base roof replacement project is estimated to cost $3.65 million, which includes replacing the roof and corridor lighting and ceilings but not any . If the HVACs were to be replaced, the costs would balloon well more than $5 million.
With an expected state reimbursement of about nearly $1 million, the town can expect to pay $2.7 million out of its own coffers for the project, Llodra said.
Although that amount is well within what was authorized for the project, the town will have to bond more than initially expected, and that may have an impact on other items on the Capital Improvement Plan for the next three years, Llodra said.
“We would have to reduce the CIP by a million, the year after that by a million and a half, and the year after that by one million,” she said during Monday’s finance board meeting. “It really is because we based our expected bondable margin on a factor that did not turn out to be true.”
What that means is that by doing the roof project, other projects on the CIP may need to be removed or scaled down, which will have to prompt another round of discussions, Llodra said.
“It’s going to be a very difficult decision,” she said.
While Llodra told the finance board she is expecting to proceed with the project because it has received all of the necessary approvals, that was prior to her conversation with the Bureau of School Facilities and learning about the state reimbursement issue.
Next week, officials are expected to debate that point, particularly because some have made it clear they do not support the project.
“It’s a mistake for the town to go forward with this project until the scope of the project is clarified,” finance board member Marty Gersten said during the Monday meeting. “Yes, you may have the authority to spend 4.2 (million dollars), but you don’t know what you are building yet…to me it’s just a recipe for disaster.”
At the same time, other members said they were in favor of the project because the leaky roof has been an ongoing problem.
“We’ve been having this discussion for five to 10 years,” finance board member Jim Gaston said. “It needs to have a roof.”
Time also is running out for the project, which was expected to begin this summer but may be in jeopardy of being completed in time for next school year in light of the delays. Officials were to have made a decision by last week.