Public weighs in on NHS renovation project

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Residents check out a science lab at Naugatuck High School during a tour Wednesday night. The borough has approved an $81-million plan to renovate the school as new, which will go to referendum on Nov. 8. LARAINE WESCHLER

NAUGATUCK — A small but enthusiastic crowd attended the public hearing on proposed renovations of Naugatuck High School Wednesday night.

About 50 people, including many town and school officials, toured the school, inspecting exposed electric outlets, swelling floors, and cracked walls.

“Tonight, this high school spoke in an extremely effective and precise manner about the urgency and the necessity for this plan to become a reality,” said Frank Johnson, Jr. during a public hearing following the tour.

The $81 million plan to renovate the high school as new will go to referendum Nov. 8. The plan includes repairs to the school’s infrastructure that would bring it up to code, technological upgrades, and improvements to the athletic fields along with a new synthetic turf field.

Naugatuck resident Bert Schiaroli said he works in Cheshire, where the high school is currently installing a new synthetic turf field. He said the synthetic field could be used day and night and lasts for 15 to 20 years.

“That would be a big feather in Naugatuck’s cap to have the fields renovated,” Schiaroli said.

John Johnson, who has two children in the district and one that recently graduated from Naugatuck High, said he sees the need for the renovations.

“This school is worn out. It’s time to address that. … It would be shortsighted and foolish … not to take advantage of the opportunity that presents itself now to get the assistance from the state,” Johnson said after the public hearing.

The borough is eligible for 75 percent reimbursement from the state for most of the renovation costs. The town’s share of the cost is estimated to be between $24.9 million and $37.4 million.

Naugatuck resident Sally Brouillet felt that fixing portions of the school one at a time isn’t an option.

“I think you should go full speed ahead with the renovation,” Brouillet said.

However, Brouillet said she was concerned about how much the project would raise the mill rate.

It is impossible to know the exact mill rate impact over the 20-year bond. According to borough estimates, the highest mill rate impact from bonding the project would be in 2018, when the impact is estimated to be 0.21 mills. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

The estimates are based on the value of one mill growing at one percent per year and the borough’s share of the project coming in at $30 million.

Under the worst-case scenario, if the borough’s share is $37 million, the greatest impact would be felt in 2018 when the project alone would increase the mill rate 0.23 mills, according to the estimates.

Following 2018, the town’s payments on debt service would go down as other existing bonds are paid off.

To save taxpayers money, Brouillet urged the town to reconsider combining other schools and taking some schools offline, as long as it wouldn’t affect the quality of  education.

“If you keep raising our taxes so much that we outpace the towns around us, what is going to happen is no one will come to Naugatuck and you’re going to have a beautiful high school with nobody in it,” Brouillet said.

The district is offering two more tours before the referendum to give voters a chance to see the school and hear a presentation on the project. The remaining tours are Nov. 2 and 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the high school.