Borough school project up to voters

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The schematic site plan of what a renovated Naugatuck High School would look like from above, complete with fields and parking. CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — Voters will decide Tuesday whether to spend $81 million on renovations at Naugatuck High School.

Several boards, commissions and committees have approved the project, which would start next fall and span three years, bringing the high school to mint condition. Residents will get the chance Tuesday to express their views and make the final decision.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said he hoped residents would take time to familiarize themselves with the proposal.

“It’s a sound business plan,” Mezzo said. “It makes sense, it’s the right time, it maximizes our investment and we need to move the flagship facility of our school district forward from the sad state that it’s currently in.”

Plans to renovate the school were set in motion after its evacuation in February, when cracks were noticed in the walls as other buildings collapsed under feet of snow. Later that month, a 4-year-old report detailing structural problems throughout the school resurfaced. The borough’s Long Term School Facilities Planning Committee, which is planning the configuration of the school district by 2025, considered isolated repairs, a complete renovation and building a new school, and decided on the renovate-to-new proposal.

The school, built in 1959 with additions in 1974 and 2003, is filled with areas that do not comply with handicap accessibility, health, safety and fire codes. The renovations would make the building code-compliant, improve technological infrastructure, bring the Board of Education offices into the school, create a new synthetic turf field, add a new entrance and intermission plaza to the auditorium, and possibly provide for air conditioning and a backup generator so the school can be used as a shelter during massive power outages, revamp the pool house, create new fitness and dance rooms and enlarge lockers, among many other changes.

Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said he was most excited about the increased internet capacity the project would bring. New fiber-optic cables, hubs and servers would be included, increasing the school’s bandwidth to 1 gigabyte per second.

“We should be able to have the same internet capacity as a major college or university,” Tindall-Gibson said. “We will have the capacity to do some amazing things.”

As education becomes increasingly digitized, Tindall-Gibson said he envisions students learning on interactive desks and walls, and he doesn’t want to see the borough left behind. Better technology could increase students’ access to the resources the world has to offer while replacing the cost of textbooks, which are not instantly updated, Tindall-Gibson said.

“You have to kind of anticipate those changes in educational delivery,” Tindall-Gibson said. “We’ll definitely step up the academic rigor.”

The state is expected to partially reimburse the borough, leaving the borough to foot between $25 million and $37 million of the project’s costs, depending on how much the state decides to reimburse. The borough would fund the project through bonds.

If the referendum passes, the building committee in charge of the project will hire an architect and firm up construction documents, Mezzo said. [

The borough will apply to the state for reimbursement before the project begins, so that the state’s contribution will become known, and the state will reimburse piecemeal, sending the final check after the project is finished, Tindall-Gibson said.

Based on Controller Wayne McAllister’s estimate that the borough would spend $30 million, the project could increase property taxes by $2 next year for a home assessed at $200,000. In 2018, the year of the biggest jump, the project could mean a $42 tax increase for a home of the same value, although grand list growth and the impact of revaluations every five years remains unknown.

To bring the building up to code without complete renovations, the borough would have to spend about $22 million, according to Kaestle Boos Associates, the New Britain-based architectural firm that performed the feasibility study.

Uncertainty over the state’s reimbursement rate and the project’s tax impact has caused some residents to voice concerns.

Burgess Ronald San Angelo has spoken against the project since its inception, saying safety concerns in the building can be addressed through routine maintenance.

“Citizens are worried about employment and keeping our jobs and houses,” San Angelo said. “It seems like very bad timing to me. … They’re talking about all the good things and they’re really not talking about the realities of the fiscal situation going forward.”

Raymond Donnelly, 82, of 25 King St., said he thinks the athletic fields need some work, but he will vote against the proposal because no one seems to be sure how much it will cost taxpayers.

“I’m not saying I’m 100 percent opposed to it,” Donnelly said. “I will say I am opposed [because of the way it’s being presented.”