Referendum set on high school overhaul

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This artist rendering shows what the front of Naugatuck High School might look like after the project is complete. The plans are to put administrative offices in the front of the school where there currently is an open area.

NAUGATUCK — A multi-million high school renovation project has cleared the final bureaucratic hurdles. The decision on whether to move forward with the repairs now rests in the hands of the voters.

The Board of Finance and the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance overwhelmingly supported a bond authorization of $81 million for the project last night during a pair of special meetings. At the time same, the Board of Education approved the educational specifications for the project.

With the approvals in order, the future of the $81 million project will be decided at a Nov. 8 referendum.
Currently, the high school is in a state of disrepair. Cracks are a common sight in walls and floors, the infrastructure is deteriorating, and the building is in violation of a number of state and federal codes.

The project will completely overhaul the high school and renovate it as new including 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. The Board of Education central offices would also be moved into the high school.

The town will be reimbursed up to 75 percent by the state for much of the costs of the project. Officials estimated that in the best case scenario the borough’s share of the project will be $24 million and the worst case would see the borough paying $35.5 million. It’s expected the final figure for the borough’s share of the project will fall somewhere in the middle.

Burgess Ron San Angelo has been the only official to voice opposition to moving forward with the project. He voted against approving the referendum at the Board of Mayor and Burgesses’ meeting Tuesday, and voted against authorizing the bond last night.

San Angelo has contended that with the economy in bad shape, now is not the time to move forward with such a large project.

During the joint boards meeting, San Angelo said he’s concerned that the possibility of losing the 75 percent reimbursement next year is being used as a reason to push the project forward. He said the chances are slim that the rate will drop next year.

“I don’t think it’s an accurate fear and if it is it’s a very remote one,” San Angelo said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the point is not that the rate might drop, but that it’s never been higher. He said the borough is not trying to use fear to push the project, and pointed out the state is trending towards reducing all aid to municipalities. He felt the time for Naugatuck and other communities has peaked for what the state is going to give them.

In a subsequent interview, Mezzo contended the project makes economic sense now for several reasons, including low construction costs and interest rates, and the borough will not see the full impact of the bonding for four to five years.

“The natural initial reaction is to say this is a bad time, in essence it’s actually quite a good time and makes economic sense in the long-term,” Mezzo said.

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.

If the referendum is approved, construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2012 with an estimated completion date of August 2015.

To view a presentation on the project and a virtual tour of the proposed project, visit Mezzo’s blog at www.bobmezzo.com.