There was little doubt in the mind’s of voters that the middle schools needed renovations as the town passed an initial referendum in 2011 to bond $85 million for a project to renovate both DePaolo Middle School and Kennedy Middle School.
Now officials are hoping that voters will take an active role in learning the facts and voting in the best interest of the community when the project goes back to referendum on March 19.
Southington School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. and Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski held a press conference Monday, offering an opportunity to share facts about the project and changes that led to the town needing to seek an additional $4.75 million in order to meet environmental remediation requirements and other unexpected costs associated with the project.
“The message is simple,” Erardi said. “We want people to be informed, to have and share accurate information, and to get out and vote.”
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Voters will be asked next Tuesday, March 19, whether they would support bonding $89.75 million for renovation of the two schools. The project has changed some since it was originally proposed, due in large part to unexpected costs uncovered during an environmental analysis that found high levels of PCBs at each of the schools.
PCB remediation alone will cost more than $9.2 million, an additional $6.4 million beyond what was initially budgeted for the project. Unanticipated cost overruns associated with administration, development, design and management costs account for an additional $10 million in costs as well.
There is a catch though, one that often puzzles Southington taxpayers: the project will save the local taxpayers money.
Goralski said diligent work from a dedicated subcommittee led by Christopher Palmieri, a town councilor and member of the Middle School Building Committee, helped to reevaluate the project designs, eliminating space including a second teacher’s lounge and undesignated computer lab space to reduce costs and bring the project closer to budget.
No computers or computer purchases were cut, Palmieri said Monday night, and the project still addresses town needs while doing so in a manner that does not impact the quality or integrity of renovation work and still meets the town’s needs, both now and in the future.
“The fact is, this is something that has a hidden benefit for the voters,” Palmieri said. “The town will actually receive more in state reimbursements under the modified design and will also receive additional funding thanks to Project Choice.”
Erardi said the project previously called for a 52.5 percent reimbursement before changes brought the project in line with the state’s recommended size for the anticipated future populations within each building. As a result, the town is now eligible for a greater than 56 percent reimbursement on the project.
The town has also been an active participant in the Project Choice program, a state initiative that brings students in from outside the district to help provide for their education needs. In the end, Erardi said residents will actually be asked to front $900,000 to $1.8 million less than they originally would have before all the changes.
The district has spent the past month traveling to meetings for local organizations, speaking before PTOs and addressing the general public to help get the word out. Erardi and Goralski each said it’s now up to the voters to decide what’s best for the community.
“We want people to have the facts, to know we’ve been transparent and most important, we want to make sure they get out and vote,” Goralski said. “We look forward to hearing the voters opinion because at the end of the day, that’s the opinion that matters the most.”
The vote Tuesday will be held at Derynoski Elementary School only and will contain just the one question. Polls open at 6 a.m. and will remain open until 8 p.m.
Stay tuned to Southington Patch throughout the week for detailed coverage and come back on Tuesday for complete results.
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