Board backs sending renovation project to vote

Mayor Robert Mezzo looks at a rusty door handle at the entrance to the Naugatuck High School pool during a tour of the high school Aug. 25.
Mayor Robert Mezzo looks at a rusty door handle at the entrance to the Naugatuck High School pool during a tour of the high school Aug. 25.

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Mayor and Burgesses overwhelmingly supported sending a multi-million dollar high school renovation plan to referendum Nov. 8

Voters will be asked to approve an $81 million reconstruction and renovation plan that would include replacing windows with energy efficient windows, replacing all ceiling and floor tiles, removing hazardous materials, constructing new athletic fields, repairing drainage systems, and installing new furniture, equipment, and computers.

Representatives from Kaestle Boos Associates presented their plan for high school improvements at the board’s meeting Tuesday night.

Burgess Ron San Angelo, the only burgess who voted against sending the plan to referendum, said he wasn’t convinced that renovate-to-new was the best option.

He said he was concerned with the speed with which the borough was acting on such a big project, which could increase the mill rate at a time when taxpayers are struggling to make ends meet. The project could increase taxes by a little more than one mill, according to Comptroller Wayne McAllister.

“I’m not sure that this is the right time,” San Angelo said.

The consensus among the other burgesses was that now is the best time for the project because the borough’s reimbursement rate is at an all-time high and its bond rating just went up while costs for constructions and interest rates have gone down. The borough’s bonded indebtedness is relatively low, according to Mayor Robert Mezzo. He said the last big project the borough bonded was the construction of Maple Hill School in 1990.

“The high school is an asset we need to take care of. We always say it’s never a good time. …We have to make it time now,” said Burgess Robert Neth, who pointed out that the taxpayers won’t start paying for it for a few years. “Naugatuck as a community needs to move forward.”

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi said the high school is the anchor of the community that will draw families and businesses to the town.

“A school is the root of a community,” Rossi said.

Mezzo, who “vehemently” supports the project, said people always fear change.

“To me, this is a clear-cut choice between doing what is right economically for our future and just doing just more of the same and kicking the can down the road like we’ve done for the better part of a generation.”

The plan is the results months of research by the Long Term School Facilities Planning Committee, which was formed last October.

Architect David King of Kaestle Boos outlined for the board existing conditions at the high school, including cracked walls and floors, deteriorating infrastructure, and a number of state and federal code violations.

Besides addressing maintenance and compliance issues, the plan would meet new educational specifications and house the Board of Education.

If voters approve the project, the borough would have until June 30 to file with the state and lock in its reimbursement rate. Construction would start the following year and take about three years to complete in phases.

Officials expect the state to reimburse the borough 75 percent for most of the costs, but some areas, like the Board of Education offices, natatorium, and athletic fields would be reimbursed at a lower rate. The borough would finance the project through a 20-year bond.

By comparison, officials estimate the borough would only receive around 50 percent reimbursement for constructing a new school. King estimated the cost for a new building on the same location would be about $106 million.

King said the life expectancy of the building would be about the same under renovate-to-new or new construction. Once completed, the newly-renovated building is expected to serve the borough for another 20 years.

If the borough only did maintenance and code compliance upgrades, the state would only reimburse it for a few items. To do basic maintenance, code compliance, and the Board of Education offices, the borough would pay about $22.6 million of the $46 million cost officials have estimated.

Mezzo appointed a Naugatuck High School Building Committee to work with the Board of Education on the project.

Voters will have a chance to voice their opinions and ask questions at a public hearing prior to the referendum. The hearing date has not yet been set. The plan is also subject to approval by the Planning Commission, Board of Education, and Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses.